I love hearing memories of Ole E’ton. Before Maloney’s Store opened on the corner of N. Railroad and Clark, the business there which fascinated kids of all ages was known as Brown’s Junk Store. Walking down Railroad St. (now known as Lee Trover Todd St) toward the ole Company Store, one could stop in at the next business which was Marvin Long’s Restaurant for lunch or skip on past the next shop which occupied a small area (like another small one along RR St by the E’ton Bank).
This one wasn’t open to the public but merely a storage area for the dime store on the Company Store alley (now Fox Alley). The next business was Stoltz/Harding’s Cleaners which reeked of cleaning fluid as soon as the door opened. The air was different immediately and, no matter the weather, had a strange warmness from the steam press. The favorite business for the young and old was an offer of escape from reality sitting in a pull-down seat watching a movie at the (Old) Earl Theater.
After the movie which on Saturdays often included, a newsreel, coming attractions, a serial like “Naomi the Jungle Girl” and a Western shoot-‘em-up. The price of the escape began at a nickel and grew to a quarter and a bit more. The front of the Earl had two entrances with the first being an outside stairs to the balcony and the second was a set of swinging doors to the entrance and bottom floor (which seated white patrons). The entrances were separated by a ticket window.
A clerk collected a nickel and in return handed out from the bottom of the window a 2” paper ticket to be immediately passed on to whomever was inside the door. He tore the ticket in half and dropped the stub in a box. For the same nickel, anyone entering could remain in the theater until it closed for the evening. Behind the white-seating section was a rail or banister which separated those from the black community.
The theater was about one-half the size of the New Earl which would be built later on E. Main. At times, the stage, which had tall curtains, was used for live entertainment. A piano was nearby for Miss West to magnificently play fast-tempo music for cowboy chase scenes, soft music for romantic ones, and choppy, mysterious music for thrillers.
Sitting in the darkened theater for an hour or so left anyone exiting to throw up a hand to protect their eyes from suddenly over-bright sun. On the other side of the Earl was the 10 cents store (AKA the Dime Store), a two-story building purchased by Jack Whitford and located on the bricked alley across from the St. Bernard Company Store.
Across E. Main from the Company Store was John Long’s Bakers. This was the store in which Freddie Wilcox worked for two years after he left school in the 7th grade. Lee Trover Todd was also a laborer in the bread industry there. But these memories are solely Freddie’s--ones he shared on a warm August day in 2016.
Freddie shared with anyone who had the time to sit and reminisce. His memory was as sharp at the beginning of 2020 at 100 years old as it was that August 27th, and the gentle, patient Freddie Wilcox was still sharing memories with his children, grandchildren and great-grands. Freddie could talk much faster than I could write and mix in almost a dozen other stories. I would have to put up my hand and shake my head. “Wait, Freddie!” I’d repeat some of his words and the characters. “Nah, Ann, that’s not right.”
So, we’d start again on another page, but somehow one story made him think of several more. Freddie would stop in the middle of one and look up. “You remember him, don’t ya?” Or he was certain I didn’t. Bless him! Sometimes he thought I was too young to recall the many characters he could remember in detail. Some I did. Some I didn’t. But, Freddie could go back at least one more generation. He recalled their ideocracies, their homes, their morals (but he’d laugh and say, ‘But that’s another story. We won’t talk about that.”)
Freddie had hundreds of WW II tales. He’d shake his head and look down when he started a sad one. He’d make a few comments, then say he didn’t like to think about that subject “Those were hard days.” I asked him a few times about the early war days in E’ton.
He said during WW II, Bob Priest, a railroader used his house as a recruiting area. If you wanted to join up, you signed up there and waited until the area had enough boys to fill a bus. Men waited until a bus arrived to pick them up and took them to Henderson to load up a few more. Then on to Owensboro and then Louisville. Freddie “jined up” on Valentine’s Day in ’41 and took basic for six weeks at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
The guys slept in a room full of cots at the Blue Boar Inn one night and took their physical the next day. After dark, they were put on a train where they set on a side-track three hours until a convoy of trucks took them to the camp where they got another physical, then shipped on to Texas. The quartermaster gave them khaki clothes which they later exchanged for summer clothes. One day they headed to Tallahassee, Tn (on the banks of the Tennessee River) from Marion, Indiana.
The guys walked 15 miles a day ‘til a truck picked them up. The next day was the same. They were given one canteen water for a ten minute break. Freddie got a high fever and infected throat and was sent to a hospital back in Ky. There the medics shot him full of penicillin. After he left the hospital in Ft. Knox, he walked around a bit and ran into Lawrence Kistner (who later became a casualty). Lawrence was shipped to the Philippines and Freddie to Iceland for 18 months. Freddie was in the 2nd Infantry in ’42 and ran across Vernon McGar for the 2nd time. Vernon was in the 10th.
Once when Freddie was in London a Red Cross Center, he signed the register and saw Robert O’Bannon had signed just a bit before him. He looked around to find him, but Robert was long gone. Another day Freddie saw Monkey McGar’s brother Vernon hitch hiking while Freddie was riding with a couple returning to Ft Custer, near Battle Creek, MI. Freddie said he asked them to stop so he could walk with Vernon.
At that point, Freddie stopped talking a few seconds then added he was sorry later he gave up his ride. He never explained the why. So, I asked what the worst part of the war for him was personally. His answer came quickly. “Being there.” He laughed but it held a sadness. “165 of us left together. Only 35 of us original men came back together.” I had to ask. “Do you know what happened to the others?” His terse answer came as quickly. “Didn’t want to know.” Freddie shook his head as if to throw out the memory. “Whenever a man was missing, they just sent moved in another replacement. We didn’t ask any questions we didn’t want answered.”
Prior to Freddie’s week-long birthday celebrations in 2019, we talked about his being around for 100 years. I asked the same question that probably a hundred or more had asked. “How does it feel to be one of the rare people to be here for a century?”
He said something that he must have wondered about a million times. “You know, the doctor pronouncing me dead twice from small-pox. They didn’t think I’d live.” I laughed after he repeated it a few times like he still wondered at the “Why.” I theorized, “Well, they’d be surprised you’re still here a few weeks shy of a century.” “Yep,” he nodded in reflection. “I survived small-pox, but most kids didn’t.” I replied with the only answer I had, “Guess God’s not ready for you yet.” “Guess not,” he said.
Perhaps Freddie knew he would receive his answers last week when he stated that Wandean was waiting at the Gate for him. Wandean and thousands of others whose paths had crossed with Freddie’s for a century. I’ve never heard anything but positive comments about Freddie. Fine Fellow. Self-made. Christian man. Patient. Kind.
Beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather. Who of us will have this said of us after 100 years? Few, I’ll risk. Yes, Freddie Wilcox will definitely be missed by all he leaves behind. Horrors of war will be forgotten, and he will have thousands of years to practice remembered E’ton tales. Farewell, friend. Centurion. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”