Growing up I spent a lot of time in the old hardware store in Riverton. It was one of those old community gathering places that you hear so much about these days. I remember there were benches on the porch for people to sit in and there were a few chairs inside near the cash counter. There always seemed to be a bunch of old men gathered around there telling lies about their lives and trying to pass it all of as the gospel truth.
On a typical summer day, old man Doc would be sitting out on the bench on the porch, he was some kin to us and my Granddad always talked to him and asked if he needed a ride home. You see, Doc didn’t have a car and he either walked or hitched a ride from his house to the hardware store every day. Doc would always take him up on the offer for a ride home, which to me at the time was pure torture. Old man Doc was notorious for not being able to control his bowels and as often as not, we’d end up having to clean off the truck seat after dropping Doc off at his house. But of course, it couldn’t be cleaned immediately, no siree-bob, we had to wait until we were up the road a ways so Doc wouldn’t know that we were having to clean up after him. Doc was always a pleasant enough old man to talk to, it was just having to clean up after him that was the bad part. I never knew my Granddad to ever not offer a ride to Doc if he needed one though.
Another familiar face at the hardware store was old Slack Hand. You can read about Slack Hand by clicking here. Old Slack Hand would always be sitting in an old split-bottom chair with what looked like the bottom nearly hanging down to the floor. I imagine it was his immense girth that led the chair to have the sagging bottom in it, and it was an on-going joke among many people that if the straining buttons on his shirt ever broke loose, they would likely injure somebody really bad. I remember it always seemed that his chair would be in the way of getting to the pop cooler. You could neither get to it from the front of him, nor by going all the way around the store to reach it from behind him, somehow he always managed to position himself just so he’d completely block access to the pop cooler. I know now that this was because if you asked him to move for a second so you could get into the pop, he’d inquire “So, are you gonna buy me a pop?” As often as not, someone would say, “Give him a sody so he’ll shut up.” and so Slack Hand would wrangle a free pop out of the deal.
Another common face at the store was a man called Killdare. He was the pseudo-hunter of the group and was always telling about his exploits of hunting in the mountains. I remember several of his far-fetched tales, and I’ll share with you the two most memorable stories of his. The first was about the time he was hunting out on the Huckleberry Plains. It was mid-summer and it was a warm day when he left with his plott hound, Sam. Killdare and Sam were in search of grouse which would be feeding on the ripening huckleberries. Well ole Killdare said him and Sam were several miles out on the plains when a big black cloud came approaching from the west, and he figured it was a thunderstorm and decided to seek cover. When the storm finally reached them, it brought with it a snowstorm.
Killdare said that in a matter of minutes, the ground was covered with snow, and it was still snowing so hard that he couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. He said it snowed for several more hours during which time he made a lean-to between two boulders and set up camp. He said it soon grew dark, and seeing that there was already over a foot of snow on the ground, he settled in for the night and bedded down.
In the middle of the night he said he was awakened by some sort of bellowing, the likes of which he had never heard in these mountains. The sound kept coming closer and he was increasingly puzzled as to what it was. After a few more minutes, he said that a great shaggy head poked around the corner of his lean-to and he was face to face with a giant moose. Well, Killdare, being always at the ready for such a chance encounter with big game, up and shot the moose and killed it dead right then and there. He said he got up out of bed and dressed out the moose, and cut him off a big hunk of the meat and roasted it over the fire. He went on the say that was the best tasting meat he’d ever had. Well, his telling of the story at this point would always lead somebody to ask, “How did a moose get all the way onto the huckleberry plains of West Virginia?” to which Killdare would respond that he reckoned the moose got lost in the snowstorm and he figured it was thinking it was headed towards the Rocky Mountains instead of the huckleberry plains. Of course, nobody believed his story and they would try to trip him up in it by inquiring how come nobody had ever seen the moose head that he had killed, (Killdare was notorious for collecting mounted animal heads), and he’d answer them, “Well the next morning, it stopped snowing and it got hot, real hot, and all of the melted like that (he’d snap his fingers) and it caused a big flood right up on the huckleberry plains. He said the floodwaters washed away the entire carcass over the moose except for the hunk of meat he had roasted over his fire, and it was all he could do to save himself and ole Sam. Then someone would ask him how come nobody living down the valley from the huckleberry plains had reported any flooding, and Killdare would say the flood waters all ran towards the low end of the huckleberry plains and it all dropped down into a big cave, and from there he doesn’t know where the water ended up. He said he reckoned the unexpected summer snowstorms and the ensuing floodwaters were the reason why there wasn’t any trees that grew out on the huckleberry plains.
The other hunting tale told by Killdare involved his hunting wild turkeys in Germany Valley. He said he was walking up Dolly Ridge and came upon a big downed tree and it was plum covered with turkeys. He said he had never seen a sight like that in all of his days, and he decided to count them all to see how many there were. He said he counted exactly 100 turkeys, and as he was finished counting them he noticed that they were all lined up in a perfectly straight line from where he stood, so the idea came to him that perhaps he could shoot more than a couple of them with only one shot. He said he drawed up and took careful aim and fired, he said there was a great rustling noise and he seen turkeys flopping everywhere but he only noticed one turkey gobbler flying away. He assessed the situation (that was a favorite saying of his “assessed the situation”) and he seen that his one shot had killed 99 of the 100 turkeys. Of course, nobody believe his great hunting prowess and someone would always ask him, “Why didn’t you just say that you killed all one hundred of them turkeys with just one shot, why did you have to say that one got away?” to which Killdare would incredulously report, “I’ll be damned if I’ll tell a lie over just one turkey!”
There were many other colorful people who came into the store and who I got to know during our frequent trips there, people like Mabel Mack and Wild Indian Turnip, and Waltaddie and his daughter Hoghead, but those are stories best saved for another day.