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Vanilla Coke

May 23, 2018
BY CHUCK CLEGG - Columnist , Wetzel Chronicle

Recently, I wrote a short story describing a painting of the Lincoln Theater that Earl Yost has been working on for over a year. He has applied his paints to the canvas in dozens of layers to give depth to the image of a moment that long ago faded into history. Knowing Earl, he will refine his canvas's appearance several more times in an effort to recreate a perfect likeness of a once Friday night tradition.

When I began writing the story to go along with his painting, I needed to step back in time to the early sixties to my own memories. I wanted to remember the sights and sounds of Main Street on a Friday night in downtown. In Earl's painting, kids are being dropped off by parents to attend the show. Perhaps that evening a Disney classic Old Yeller may have been shown. The second show that evening, The Monster Spider That Ate New York. Whatever the evening's presentation, it was a great time in my home town.

New Martinsville's Main Street, at that time, was lined with locally owned businesses. Each sold customers things they needed in their everyday lives. Some stores specialized in shoes, remember the Fort Pitt Shoe store? Others offered a variety of items like the H&P store on south Main. There was even a funeral home that sat on the corner of Main and Jefferson Street, Wharton's & Ellis.

In Earl's picture, he captures the old theater as it looked in those days. Do you remember, on the next block, north there was another movie house, the Temple Theater? And just up the street a little further was the Jack and Jill shop. I remember as a kid I thought it sold doll clothes in the front windows. If you wanted to buy a magazine or newspaper there was the Temple News stand just across the street from the theater.

The businesses I speak of, along with many others, are long gone and only exist in grainy black and white picture images. In fact, on Main Street today, the only businesses still operating from my youth are Ruttenbergs, Quinets and Witscheys. I visualized Main Street of my youth and tried to count the different businesses that made it a thriving place of commerce. Roughly I counted around forty-five. The banks are still downtown, but they have new names and new buildings. Mary still corrects me when I say I am going to the New Martinsville Bank or First National. I know, in my mind, they are new banks with new names, but what does it hurt for me to remember them as they once were. These are my memories of the fifties and sixties. Go back further into the twenties and thirties, and downtown has lost sixty or seventy businesses.

Back in the day, downtown had several public bars. They were a place where you could get a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and a fish sandwich. Later in the evening you could play a few games of pinball or shuffle board to pass the time. Those old beer joints had their very own personalities. I know some people frown when I mention beer joints, and the unsavory images they may stir. But I enjoy remembering them and the social knowledge they gave me. Not for the drinking, but for the many characters that stop by to share a few tall yarns. If you were willing to listen to their stories you could be entertained for hours. Those old bars were often dark and smelled of smoke and a great deal of humanity. It has been over forty years since I ventured into one of those establishments. Today, they are pretty much all gone from our community. Still, I remember those shared stories, and I like to think they influenced some of the columns I write today. In Earl's case, he uses his artist skills to capture those by-gone days' images, and shares them with those who view his paintings. We each tell stories of our community in our own way. Earl uses his paints, and I use words to create an image for you to remember.

There are two places on Main Street that bring back special memories. The first was the 5 10 25 Store, McCrory's. It was the grand shopping mall of our community. If you wanted to buy anything, in all likelihood you could find it within the store. I can still remember shopping for my family members at Christmas. With a pocketful of coins I could purchase gifts for members of my family from the store's shelves. I can recall looking for the biggest bottle of perfume on the shelf for my Mom.

The bigger the better I figured. A half-gallon of genuine French perfume as a Christmas gift. It said right on the label it was genuine, and from France. A bottle that size was something she could treasure for two maybe three years. Best of all, it only cost two dollars. Kind of funny how it was all used up by Valentine's Day.

Just down the street was a drug store. My recall tells me it was named Black and Palmers. Stepping into the store was like stepping back in time, even back then. Round white marble tables were surrounded by wire framed chairs. On the counter sat a dozen glass jars of penny candy. I was always partial to the jar of rock candy. On the back wall were shelves filled with a variety of items sold in a drug store. On the very top were large glass medical jars filled with colored liquids. I think they were supposed to make it appear more like a drug store. The best thing about the store was, it sold fountain drinks and ice cream. You could order a coke right out of the dispenser into a glass filled with crushed ice. When the liquid came out of the dispensing nozzle it made an odd sound as it filled the glass. If you were adventurous, you could tell the person making your drink to add a squirt of vanilla to your fizzing drink. If they were of the mind too, they may give it an extra squirt. Nothing better than a vanilla coke with two squirts. You could also get a cherry coke if your taste was so inclined. Kids today don't know what they are missing when they can no longer sit on a stool and watch a coke being created right in front of them. Ah, the good old days.

Earl's picture reminds me of a time when our town was both family and community. A time when Friday night meant moving picture shows. It was a place where you could buy clothes for a child, or a pair of wing tip shoes. It was a town like thousands of others across our country. But, small town businesses could not compete with progress we all said we wanted. I sometimes hear, "I would like to have it just like the old days." Unfortunately, the truth is we all wanted more selection and cheaper goods.

Looking into Earl's painting, it reminds me that I would once again like to have a fountain coke with two squirts of vanilla while sitting in Blacks Drug Store. As I drank it, I could look across the street at a 55 Chevy stopping in front of the theater. Once more it is the way I remember back Through the Lens.



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