By Robert E. McCormack
One of my earliest Cherry Tree memories is playing with the Wiley children next door. Harold was my age and we played in the dirt with our trucks and cars. His sister, Judy, was always crying. “Tin can alley” was a sport some of us indulged in. It was a sad day as I watched the Wiley family pack up their big lumber truck to move to Wayne County. I would miss sitting on their front porch and listening to Mrs. Wiley tell ghost stories at night. It wasn’t long before a new family moved in—the Mays family. We share many memories with them. Bill Mays was a buddy to my brother, Ronald, Skipper and I played together.
After my father, Clovis (“Shine” or CB) McCormack, had a heart attack in 1944, it was decided that since my mother, Virginia McCormack, was teaching school, I was too much for my recovering father. Belvia Samson baby sat me for a while and then could not do it any longer. Emma Sexton and the bed ridden Rev Hattie Hickman became my sitters. Years later they would laugh at recalling my introspection about their religious stand on cigarettes when I said: “My Daddy mokes and he’s going to heaven.” It was an adventure roaming around their big house and exploring the mysteries upstairs On occasion, Emma would take time out of her busy routine of washing clothes, ironing, cooking, scrubbing, making bread, etc. to pop some of the corn I had discovered upstairs.
The next year I stayed with Dora Davidson across the back alley from us. Being a well behaved kid, my mother would have been horrified had she known of my tempertantrum one morning when I really didn’t want to be there. As I kicked the front door and cried, Mrs. Davidson warned that if I didn’t stop she would send Junior (Bruce) to the creek bank to get the “Booger Man.” That calmed me down, to say the least. The other times were all good with
Mrs. Davidson. She took me on adventures such as the making of apple butter at Monitor (probably when the Highleys lived there) using a copper kettle over an open fire. We also made other visits throughout the neighborhood. The beauty of Izetta Hannah, her adult married daughter, held me spellbound at times
Providing a sitter before and after school as well as my Dads health must explain the reason I accompanied my
mother to J. B. Ellis Grade School to attend first grade. Mother was my teacher and what a fiasco that was! You could say that my education got started off with a bang! In order not to show favoritism, the” board of education” often connected with my bottom during that first year of school. Does anyone remember those “tattle tellers?” I didn’t experience another paddling until junior high band when Steve Ratz and I were both “busted” by the band director, Carl McElfresh, for talking during band practice.
We all looked forward to May 1 when we were allowed to go bare foot. Wading through the water holes in the alley on rainy days was such a delight. Lazy summer days playing in the sand building a village for my trucks and cars kept me occupied under the back porch or under the back steps. Houses, roads, hillsides and weeds transplanted to represent trees comprised our village. An occasional trip to the creek bank with my wagon to get a new load of sand would keep the project going. Assistance from Skipper Mays, Kenneth, Jackie & Carolyn Sue Tiller , Thelma Dingess , and Anita Stone brought fresh new ideas daily to our little dirt city. On an “off day,” a mud shampoo from Skipper Mays caused my usually calm, patient Mother to hit the roof!
Ronald, my brother, had a dog he named Prince that he dearly loved. Prince was an intelligent black and white mutt and he caught on quickly to routines. Following my Mother and Ron as they started to walk the railroad to town, Ron would say, “Go back, prince!” The dutiful dog would stand until they got out of sight and then return home. Unfortunately, everyone didn’t value Prince as much as my brother did. He was poisoned twice. Ida (Willie Gore’s friend/mistress) saved the day on one of those occasions by pouring raw eggs down the dog’s throat. Another time
Dora Davidson or Suzie Hannah administered the same anecdote. The outcome was not so fortunate when Prince discovered the fun of chasing deer on the hill in front of our house. That hill was a designated “game reserve.” Prince would come to an end when Richard Herald neighbor and county deputy sheriff, would shoot and kill Ron’s faithful dog. Ronald never cared for Richard Herald from that day forward.
The empty field next to the school served various purposes. For the buddies of my older brother, Ronald McCormack, it was their ballpark. It was a place to play football on weekends. Whoever played quarterback or tight end position wasn’t important. The Cherry Tree boys had a great rumble tumble time! Some of those playing were: Charlie Gunnoe , Virgil, Noal, and Paul Damron , Dophe & Thomas Tomblin, Frank & Dan Black , Ronald McCormack , Charlie Lacey , Bobby Barath, Bruce Davidson , Sam, Kenneth & Jack Tiller, Bill & Elbert Biggs , Bud Deskins, Pete & Jack Edmondson , Joe Piros, Ronnie Szakal, and Bobby George. There were others that don’t come to mind.
The school grounds were sometimes the sight of little boxing matches on weekends. This would lead on to by Brother Ron’s match in the Golden Gloves and earning recognition for the fastest technical knockout featherweight
champ in 1948. This was all without the knowledge of our parents until his picture appeared in the Logan Banner. What a shock to them! He wasn’t really visiting our cousin, Johnny Jones on Whitman Creek, all those times after all. Speaking of Ronald, it was with embarrassment that during class one day I listened to Thelma Mae Dingess, tell Mrs. Von Pechy how well Ronald could sing and yodel. Through the open kitchen window, he could be heard while washing dishes in the evening—a job I would inherit later on (not the yodeling, Ha!).
My favorite pastime was playing trains or forts with, Joe Piros, at his house, cowboys and Indians on the hillside behind his house, or hiking in the woods. A group of us would also do “ playhouse” or “school” with Jewel Raikes and her siblings, Linda Lou and Hobart Ray. Kool Aide was the beverage of choice to go along with our peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, etc. When Mrs. Raikes extended an invitation for me to stay for supper, I would race home to get permission. Jewel Raikes was the recipient of many of my mothers’ high heel shoes. Since they were size 4 ½ or 5, they fit her nicely. I just realized that I have no recollection what Joe’s younger brother, Bobby,
was doing all the times I visited to play with Joe. It was probably a similar situation that existed with my own brother; enough age difference to cause one not to be included in the older brother’s ventures. He was probably playing with his cousin, Bobby Szakal. For a period of time, the Charles Stone family lived behind us. I was the guest of Anita Stone and her parents to go to the Monitor Drive in Theatre a few times. What a thrill to see Frankenstein on the huge screen and to eat popcorn in the car! Anita was always fun too.
The empty field beside the school had other fun uses other than being a football field. During at least two summers,a skating rink with canvas tent was erected. That’s where Beulah Samson as well as I learned to skate. I can see us now as we held to the railing and slowly began to get our balance on wobbly wheels. We would experience some embarrassing falls as we were made our way around the rink. After a couple of weeks, some of us began to actually cross our feet as we went around the curves. Of course there were those who took to skates like ” a duck to water” to show the rest of us up. They would be skating backwards, swerving in and out, skating on one foot, etc. Kids from Fisher Bottom, Whites Addition, Cherry Tree, Monitor and other communities were finding Cherry Tree the place to hang out. Cherry Tree was finally on the entertainment map
Ronald was seven years older than I and I desperately wanted to tag along with him and his buddies. NOT! I did manage to convince Ron to let me accompany him and some of his buddies: Bill Biggs , Bruce Davidson , Sam Tiller, and others that I can’t recall on a hike to the tram road. Once on the tram road, the group sat down and passed around a tobacco pipe. I was even included and allowed to take a couple of puffs. Now it is apparent that rather than an act of inclusion, this was undoubtedly assurance that their deed would remain secret—no complaints. I gladly paid the price on order to be included in their “ fraternity.”
The houses in Cherry Tree looked small from the tram road. As I became older and made more hikes further up the mountain, it was even more awesome looking down on minuscule Cherry Tree. I was allowed to accompany Ron on his paper route a few times. Now I wonder if it was mainly to help him carry his papers. Ha!
I faintly remember Steve Tarkany. The day after he died of a sudden heart attack, we interrupted our play to watch the hearse arrive at his home from the front porch of the John Wily residence. Later I would hear my father, Clovis McCormack saying how he regretted the joke he had pulled on Steve the week before his death. My Dad called up Steve at his place of business, Handy Andy Grocery , and asked him if his store was located on the Omar road. Steve said: “Yes, it is.” My father replied: “Would you move it then, I want to come up through there? I won’t repeat the reply from Steve.
For months following the wake for Steve Tarkany, I couldn’t help but visualize the coffin in front of the double windows of his house as I would walk by. At night the outline of the sofa in front of the windows caused me to stay on the other side of the street on my way to watch TV at the Ratz residence . If there had just been a recent funeral at the church , which was across the street from the Tarkany residence , I would take my chances and stay on the Tarkany side of the street.
Inheriting Ronald’s’ J C Higgens bike opened up new opportunities as I toured the neighborhood and often cruised through “flat top city.” It was fun to place a piece of cardboard through the wheel spokes to give a putt putt sound as we raced through the neighborhood. Richard Lee Webb and I were really branching out when we bicycled as far as Switzer. Ooops—I don’t recall getting permission to do that. It was loads of fun to jump up and down on the swinging bridge going across the creek to George Thompson’s house. Our fun would quickly end when Mr. Thompson would come out and yell at us.
Numerous forts and club forts along the creek bank were always doomed to failure eventually as a group broke up and reformed. Hobart Ray Raikes , Reggie Carver and I were the best of friends and daily rode our bikes together. One day I suddenly became the outcast of this threesome and I have never understood why to this day. So goes the world of children. I soon found others to play with such as Simon Gore . It was a thrill to cross the swinging bridge and explore the opposite hillside with Simon. I use to wonder what it would be like to have a sister. Simon seemed to have so many of them and they loved to sing. I can almost hear them now singing “Lord Build me a Cabin in the Corner of Glory Land.”
In the heat of the summer, it was always fun to chase after the ice truck and be the recipient of a chunk of ice. A few of our neighbors still had ice boxes. Then there was the wading through water holes in the alley after a rain or blowing bubbles with our spools from the porch of Anita Stone.
Anna Tarkany sometimes took Joe Piros , Ronnie Szakal , and I hiking. She was a grand “buddy” to us and
we even ventured out on the abandoned Monitor mine tipple to the chagrin of my buddy Joe. It was on the return of one of those hikes that we were treated with whipped cream sprayed from a can (Ready Whip?) on cookies—my first. What a neat invention! As I entered Logan Junior High, my brother, Ronald, would be off to Korea and I observed my worried mother as the months passed by. The only neat thing was that I had my room to myself. It was lonely though.
As my little world grew such adventures as truck trips with the Joe Piros family to their Ohio farm and hitch hiking to the Holden swimming pool became a special treat. Walking the railroad to the Middleburg theatre for the Roy Rogers Club on Saturday mornings as well as attending the Mt Gay troop scout meetings under the leadership of Tommy and Billy Tabor from Fisher Bottom made me relish my independence. A summer session at Camp Chief Logan sleeping on straw stuffed muslin mattresses was an adventure in itself. Richard Webb would attest to that. Richard Lee’s mother drove us to camp. Being a Tenderfoot and completely gullible, we younger scouts bit on the old scout trick of going ”snipe” hunting. The older leaders then managed to lose us in the middle of a rural cemetery. It was up to us to find our way back to camp on that very dark night.
My new found mobility was somewhat dimmed by the shocking discovery that my pal, Joe Piros, had contacted polio. This was following a recent outing to the Holden swimming pool. We really missed him during his hospitalization at Morris Memorial Hospital at Milton. On a few occasions some of us visited Joe at Milton and eagerly looked forward to his return to Cherry Tree.
Junior High would be the beginning of memorable band experiences. Later I would experience band festival trips to Williamson & Huntington with Steve Ratz, Richard Lee Webb , Joe Piros, John Reed and numerous others. High School would mean trips to away games and we all wished we could have been a part of the trip to Washington D.C. to the Cherry Blossom Festival which was done a previous year. Shoney’s Big Boy in Huntington was always a memorable rest stop for us. On one band trip we stopped at the Greenbrier Dairy in Beckley for free deserts. I can’t recall who it was that ate 4 banana splits. I, myself, had two of them.
Approaching my sixteenth birthday, Anna Tarkany took me on driving lessons in her big Dodge. At her insistence I approached the two narrow bridges at Fisher Bottom with terror at the oncoming cars approaching. What nerve! She had more confidence in my driving abilities that I. By my junior year at Logan High School, Joe Piros was driving his own1950 Custom Ford to school and I moved into the privileged class of private car commuting students. Joe graduated in 1957which left me to return to school bus transportation with Irene as our driver. It could be fun riding the bus and we would often break out into singing “Good night, Irene, good night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams!”
During a home visit from college I was visibly shaken to learn that my childhood friend, Steve Ratz , had lost his life in a car accident on his way home from WVU that very weekend. When I got into the cab at the bus station, the driver immediately began talking about the accident and I learned that it was Steve who was killed the night before. I recall many hours spent at the Ratz home watching shows like “I Love Lucy” and smelling the baked Hungarian breads and pastries of grandmother Ratz. They were scrumptious! Steve’s younger siblings, Virginia & Mike, were more into Buffalo Bob and the Howdy Dowdy show at that time.
Reflecting on my growing up years in Cherry Tree bring “warm fuzzy” feelings of a loving family, kind neighbors and all the bumps and learning experiences that have made me who I am today. The “Cherry Tree Experience” will forever be treasured within the recesses of my mind.
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