I have always told people that like my father, Caleb Bowling, I have always had sand in my shoes, always wondering what is over the next mountain or where a new road might lead. I fully understand those who prefer to stay close to home, maybe living in the same town where their ancestors lived.
I don’t know the addresses of places where my family lived when I was a child; however, I can describe them: across from the Catholic church in Cumberland, at the Hall House in Fairview, over a store in downtown Cumberland.
For me it’s been 30 plus addresses as I’ve lived in Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, California and Missouri. Some of those places are a blur, but each time I’m in Cumberland I see what it is and I also have distinct memories of what it was when I was a child.
Vic’s Jewelry Store was a vibrant place as was Frazier’s Jewelry, and I looked longingly at the birthstone rings and watches displayed in their windows, never imagining that I would ever be able to have a watch or a ring. When as an adult, I came to know about Vic Howard’s photography skills, I gained tremendous respect for the ways in which he recorded the history of the Tri-City area in the 1940s and 1950s.
Fugate’s and Cook’s drug stores were the places where teens hung out, and a few times I was able to get a hamburger and a coke at Cook’s or a hot dog or a pimento cheese sandwich at Fugate’s.
What is now just a small patch of grass by the railroad tracks in downtown Cumberland was once Williams’ Shoe Repair. I have dozens of pairs of shoes now and when I tire of a pair, I donate them. Back then, I got a new pair at the start of the school year. They were sturdy and ugly.
Creech’s Grocery was down by what is now a flower shop and there was Ely’s Grocery and the Wayside Market a block down from the Central Baptist Church, great places to tempt me to buy candy with the nickel that was intended for the collection plate at church.
One day on my way home from elementary school, I saw television for the first time in the window at Western Auto. The black-gray-and-white, fuzzy, rolling picture was not appealing to me because I could and did use my own eyes to observe the living color that surrounded me.
Florence’s Dress Shop was on the corner where little ones are now learning tap and ballet at The Palace. As a student at Cumberland College, I was in the shop a few times, helping my grandmother, Viva Adams, select a new dress.
Across from Florence’s there is now an empty gray cinder block building which at one time had stairs going up the side and an apartment attached to the cement blocks at the top of the stairs. My friend Sylvia Sumpter lived there, and we all believed her father, Creed, to be the handsomest man in Harlan County, maybe in Kentucky.
Zackie Wakin’s store by the railroad tracks was where I first got to choose a dress that I wanted, purple, lavender and white plaid. Usually my dresses were made from feed sacks or as I got older from a few yards of fabric from Scott’s Department Store. My mother worked at Nathan’s Department Store until she married, and that store is where she first met my dad. The faded signature of that store is still on the side of the brick building.
Creech Lumber Company and Myers Hardware were stores that to my youthful sensibility seemed the purview of men only. My dad brought home a handgun from Myers one day, and my mother scolded him about the dangers of firearms in a house with young children until he returned it and bought her some silver-plated flatware. I still have the chest that housed those eating utensils.
A scrap heap where the Corlee Theater once stood does not keep me from remembering the delight I took in running to that location on Saturdays to see newsreels and a feature of my favorite cowboys, always in white hats and always winning.
My high school home economics teacher, Leola Yeary, lived in an apartment above the theater, and I always pictured her living quarters as luxurious. After all, some days in her classes she taught us about styles of furniture, elaborate table settings, and ways in which we might redesign the modest homes from which we had come into more attractive and functional places.
The train station stood where I stopped to get a drink of water on the way home from school, the same station where we departed from Cumberland the day after I finished my freshman year at Cumberland High School. My boyfriend at the time, Buddy Cornett, came to say goodbye and I was crying, believing my life was over.
My life, however, was not over. Toledo was another beginning. When I returned to work at Southeast in 1978, I did so with a sense of the past even as we all worked together with wisdom and passion to lay the groundwork to move the college into the 21st century.
Like those books of famous sites in Europe which have plastic overlays so that the traveler can see the glories of the past and then flip over to the current scenes, I will always see Cumberland as it was, a very precious part of my childhood, forever etched, multi-dimensional and in living color.
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