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The Man in Black

Very early one morning I had just opened the store while Anne and Leigh were in the kitchen having breakfast before school. It was still dark outside. I knew it was almost time for the school bus so decided to go into the house and see if they were ready. You walked out of the store into my living room and to the right off the living room was the kitchen. If you walked straight ahead when you were in the living room you would enter two bedrooms that belonged to the girls. If you were in the kitchen and facing the living room door you could see anyone that came out of the store into my house.
I walked out of the store and toward the kitchen where the girls were standing by the table finishing their breakfast. I took one look at Anne and asked her what was wrong with her because she had the strangest look on her face and seemed to be looking right through me into the room where I was standing. It was kind of a startled look coupled with one of fright. I asked her a second time what in the world was wrong with her. In a voice that sounded like a whisper to me, she said, “a man just walked out of the store right behind you.” A chill ran down my back as I quickly turned and saw nothing. I went directly to the girls. Anne breathlessly said, “he had on a black hat, shirt, and pants and he went toward our rooms. I knew Anne had seen something or someone because she was trembling.
I told them to go into my bedroom off the kitchen and if they heard me scream to go out the back door and run to the neighbor’s house as fast as they could. I went back into the store and got my pistol from under the counter. I knew the store was open and someone could have walked right in out of the darkness and could be in one of those rooms. Walking as quietly as I could, I slowly entered the first bedroom and looked around the room. Then, I checked under the bed. I entered the next bedroom and checked the bed in there and the closet. There was nothing. There was no man in black to be found and nothing looked different or out of place.
I returned to the kitchen and told the girls everything was fine and there was not anyone in that area of the house. Anne was still visibly upset and did not want to come back into the store but they both followed me back to the counter and I put the gun away.

The school bus came in a few minutes and they boarded and left for school. I, still felt very uneasy about what had happened because Anne was not someone to say she saw something unless she actually did see something and the look on her face told me she was totally scared.

I, again, got the gun out and went through the entire house and searched every closet, under every bed, went into the stock room and again there was nothing.

Peg was in the store later that morning and I told him about this incident. Of course, being scared of everything, he totally thought this was the ghost of some confederate soldier, since some of those old boards used to build the store came out of a house used for a hospital in the Civil War.

I am not a person that believes in ghosts but I know that Anne saw something or someone that day. She was nervous and upset over this for days afterward and has not wanted to discuss it since it happened. The man in black was never seen again by any of us while we lived on the Fork.


My Son, The Graduate

Leigh, Rob, and Anne

My son, Charles, was in school at Eastern Kentucky University during the first years I spent in the store on the Fork. Charles has always been called Rob or Robbie by Leigh, Anne and me but a lot of people know him as Chas. Rob would explore the creek and visit with the people hanging out in the store on his visits. We would load him up with goodies to take back to school with him. I remember getting a cardboard box and going around the store filling it with juices, nabs, potted meats, peanut butter, chips, nuts, and anything he could easily prepare or eat at school. He would take what we called his “care package” and off he would go back to school.

When I fell and broke my foot and was on crutches, Rob was there at the hospital, and spent the night at my house after I came home.

Rob majored in art in college and started drawing when he was big enough to pick up a pencil and put it to paper. I remember his dad and I gave him art lessons when he was only six or seven years old. He loved to draw and would draw on anything! He even made the girls his canvas on one occasion when they were all a bit younger. He used a magic marker to draw all over their arms and legs and it did not come off for days. No amount of scrubbing with soap and water would take those drawings off the girls. Of course, they thought it was lots of fun to have big brother drawing pictures on them.

The day Rob graduated from EKU was one of the proudest days of my life. He was the first and only member of my family to graduate college. I remember getting Carolyn to work in the store and the girls and I being so excited to attend his graduation. There was lots of posing for pictures and he was so handsome in his cap and gown.

Shortly after graduation from Eastern, Rob moved to Florida and from there to New York and then California. He became sort of a gypsy for a while and also bought a motorcycle that he rode back and forth across country.
Today, he has a wonderful wife, Sarah, and the most adorable little boy on this earth, Thomas Wyatt. He is a great husband, father, and son.

He is also a very talented artist, has acted in movies, enjoys writing, and is employed with Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington, Ky.

Hey Mom, You Sunk The Truck!!

Leigh, Maggie, Annie

Leigh, Maggie, and Annie were great friends when we lived on the Fork. They were always at my house or at Maggie’s house. Maggie lived about a mile from us and the parents either drove them back and forth, they rode their bikes, or sometimes they even walked. We never worried because in those days everyone knew everyone and watched out for each other.
One particular evening, Maggie’s parents, Kay and Harold Dean, was having a cookout and barbecue at their place and we were all invited. The girls went down early and I was to follow as soon as I closed the store for the day.

I was about thirty minutes from closing when Red stopped in the store to say hello.
Red is a character and you would have to know him to appreciate him. He lived about two miles from the store, up and over Mule Hill, in the cutest house he built himself on twenty some acres of land. The house was like a cabin with a huge downstairs living area and kitchen with a big, old wood cooking stove and bentwood cabinet handles. He had an eating table he made and inlaid old coins in the top. The upstairs was a big bedroom and bath with french style doors leading to a little porch and there was a big porch on the front of the house. Red’s place set a good distance off the road with a gravel driveway back to the house. He loved animals and was always bringing home strays. I knew Red even before I moved to the Fork and he had been to my house to dinner with mutual friends, Billy and Judy Gorley. Once I bought the store, Red and I became the best of buddies and often hung out together. We were both single and enjoyed each other’s company but we were not dating. We were just good friends and buddies. Often on Sunday afternoons, we went to the movies because it only cost a dollar to go to the matinee. One week I would choose what we saw and where we ate dinner and the next week Red would choose. Some of the movies he chose left me bored to death. He may have felt the same. Red usually stopped in the store in the mornings on his way to work and often in the evenings on his way home. If the girls had left any breakfast Red scarfed it down. He would always check for leftovers. He always looked out for us, also. I remember one time when some guy was causing a rukus outside and was trying to leave without paying for gas and Red was in the store. He politely went outside, grabbed the guy by the collar of his shirt and told him in no uncertain terms to get inside and pay for the gas and remove himself from the premises! Red was a pretty big guy and nobody messed with him. The guy paid for the gas and left. This one evening, I was tired and almost ready to close and I asked Red if he wanted a beer. We had several. I told him I was going to the barbecue and asked him if he wanted to go. Red always wanted to go if there was going to be food! We jumped in his pickup and for some reason I still don’t understand, we decided to drive to Maggie’s house through the creek. We went down to the old, iron bridge and drove down into the creek. We made it about two hundred feet and drove right off into a deep hole of water that came up to the windows. Red had a big bag of dog food in the bed of his truck and a basket of clean laundry he had just picked up on his way home. Needless to say, I think we had too much beer before our grand idea. I managed to get the window down and climbed out onto the tool box in the back of the truck. Red was wading around in the water trying to collect his laundry.
Mark Morgan was the first person to drive by on the highway and see us down there stuck in the creek. He stopped and asked if he could help and I told him to go get Hubert and tell him to bring his tractor. Mark takes off to get Hubert. About five minutes later, here comes Hubert to save the day with his huge tractor. By this time, the entire creek bank was lined with people watching the show! I could hear them asking each other where we ran off the road. They did not know we had decided to use the creek for a highway….. Hubert gets the tractor into the creek and hooks a chain onto the truck. He tells me to get off the tool box because the chain could break and fly back and hit me. Red decides he will carry me to the bank so I won’t get wet.
He took one step on a slick rock and down we both go into the water. Those people lined up on the side of the road were hooping and hollering and having a ball watching all this take place.
I finally get to the bank on my own, looking like a drowned rat, with jeans on that feel like they weigh at least fifty pounds they were so water soaked. Hubert cannot budge that truck with the tractor. Next, Hubert sends someone to get Decker and his tractor. Decker lives in sight of where we were. Fifteen minutes later, Decker has his tractor hooked to Hubert’s tractor and we now have two big tractors trying to pull Red’s truck out of the creek. After much grinding and sliding of tractor wheels the big blue truck is pulled out of the water and drug by a tractor down to the store where they unchain it and leave it. Water is pouring out of that truck on all sides and continued to drain for at least three days.
By this time, everyone on the Fork knows what is going on up the creek and Leigh and Annie was not at all happy about their mother and her shenanigans. Someone dropped me off to change clothes and then took Red home with his collected laundry all soaking wet. I don’t think I ever made it to the barbecue that night but I sure did hear some choice words about my behavior from the girls. I remember them telling me I should stay home and do things like knit and stuff like other mothers. Beeler Cox lived right near the hole of water where we sunk the truck and every time he came in the store for months he would look at me and shake his head like he could not believe what he saw that night. Then, he would laugh like crazy. (To be continued)

The Forkland Heritage Festival

The people of the Forkland community bought the Forkland school after it was closed in 1971 and the children were transported to the new Boyle County Elementary school in Danville. The school had always been the hub of the community. Now, it would be the Forkland Community Center and the home of the annual “Forkland Heritage Festival and Revue”. The object of this center was to “create, cultivate, and promote an interest in the heritage of people of the Forkland Community”.

Each year the festival is host to people from far and wide. There are wagon tours of the Forkland community where you can watch sorghum molasses being made, see Penn’s Store, view wildlife, and see a water fall.
The festival is usually held on a Friday and Saturday in October. The leaves are beautiful this time of the year and the drive thru the winding countryside is worth the trip in itself.
I would usually close the store on Friday afternoons and sometimes on Saturday mornings so that I could attend the festival and visit with all the people.
There was lots of country music, a pancake breakfast, a bean supper and drama, and a 5k race called the Fox and Hound.
I ran the race the year before I moved to the Fork. It is over hill and dale and across streams. It is usually held around 8 a.m. in the morning and you had better be in good shape if you want to finish this race. The morning I ran it, the dew was on the grass making it slippery, there was shale rock near the stream and I ended up on the ground a couple of times before I finally made it to the finish line. My friend, Margaret Foley, ran with me and my doctor, Don Hamner, from Danville was also in the race. I remember Don telling me not to try and run up the big hill at the beginning or I would not be able to finish. He said to walk up the hill and then run the rest of the way. I took his advice and was totally spent when I hit that finish line but it was a great experience and something I am glad I was able to do. My twin’s dad also ran this race a couple of years later and they hope to carry on the tradition maybe this year in October. If you run this race, you get to eat pancakes afterward and they are the best pancakes you will ever eat! I was so hungry after that race that I will never forget how good those pancakes tasted.
The food at the festival is outstanding and ranges from burgoo to chicken to barbecue and pies.
Hubert ran the harvest market booth when I was on the fork. He had pumpkins, squash, persimmons, corn, nuts, dried flowers and other items for sale. Marjorie, his wife, would paint faces on some of the pumpkins and they sold like hotcakes.
I remember one year when I stopped by Hubert’s booth and he was selling hedge apples three for a dollar. I could not believe it. They were laying in the road all over the fork and all you had to do was stop and pick them up. I asked him if he was having any luck with the hedge apples and he said he had almost sold out. Hubert said some people from Japan had stopped by the booth and he told them they would keep spiders out of your house and they bought almost all the hedge apples he had. Since then, I have read somewhere that they are supposed to ward off spiders but don’t know if this is true or myth. Hubert was like a fixture at the festival and everyone stopped to see him and sit for a spell and talk.
The local area schools always transported all the elementary children to the festival on Friday. The children loved this trip and looked forward to it every year. Leigh and Anne loved it as well even though we lived less than a mile from the community center. One Friday they went off to school excited about their trip back to the Fork to the festival. I forgot to give them any money that morning so I called them and told them to go by Hubert’s booth and ask him to give them some money and tell Hubert I would pay him back after the festival. They did exactly as I told them and had the biggest day at the festival they ever had. They asked Hubert for money and he gave them all they wanted!! Everytime, they ran out, they just asked for more and Hubert gave it to them!! I am sure Hubert thought this was totally amusing. They paid for their friends to fish in the fish pond and ate until they were ready to pop. When the school bus let them off at the store that afternoon, they were so excited at what a wonderful day they had at the festival and showed me all the stuff they got from the fish pond. Hubert loved children and I am sure he got the biggest kick out of giving them this money. I paid him back every dime but made sure the next year that everyone understood about the money situation. I, never again, forgot to give them money on the Friday morning of the festival and to warn them not to ask Hubert for money.

This year will be the 37th annual Forkland Festival. It is certainly worth one’s time to take in this event and visit with all the lovely people “down on the fork”. (To be continued)

Ski Masks, Robbers, and a Guardian Angel

I have always thought there was guardian angels amongst us and most of the time they are in the form of our friends or neighbors, relatives or loved ones. It seems to me when I most needed someone in my life these were the people that came to my rescue.

Such was the case one very cold, wintry morning on the Fork. I had just opened the store, built a fire in the stove, and it was beginning to get daylight outside. This particular morning, I was alone in the store and it was so bitterly cold out that no one seemed to be up or moving about but me. I happened to glance out the window and a man was crossing the old, iron bridge a ways up the road. The man was wearing a ski mask and was on foot. He was headed for the store.

I have always heard the expression, “ignorance is bliss” and on this day I did not have one thought in my head that this guy was going to try and rob me. In fact, I thought he was walking to the store from a farm owned by Joe Hays that was located almost within seeing distance from my place. Joe was in the process of stripping tobacco and had brought tobacco hands in the store for lunch several days during this week. The man walked in and I could see by the openings around his eyes on the ski mask that he was black. We had no black people living on the Fork during this time but they often worked in our area and there had been two black guys in the store for lunch with Joe’s group.

The area farmers would often go to the nearest larger town of Lebanon and just hire guys off the street that were willing to work or they went by the pool halls and local markets and offerred employment in their crops. Often times, they did not know these people they just needed help with their tobacco.

The guy did not remove his ski cap but started walking around the store like he was checking things out. I said, “It sure is cold outside this morning”. He did not answer me. I wondered why he did not answer because I just knew this was the guy that had been in the store the day before for lunch. I said, “Where is your buddy this morning?”. The two of them had been together every day they had been in my store. Again, he did not answer and again I did not think anything about it except that maybe he was so cold or was just not in a good mood!

He went to the pop machine and got a drink and walked to the counter and set it by the register.

I rang up the pop and told him he owed me sixty-five cents. Then, a car drove up to the front steps of the store and Monkey jumped out and ran through the door. The man said in a very low, deep voice, “I don’t have the money to pay for that”, and ran out the door almost knocking Monkey down. Monkey screamed to me, “Where is your gun, they are trying to rob you.” I quickly handed Monkey the pistol I kept under the counter and he ran out the door after the guy on foot. A few minutes later, he came back and said the guy’s friend was parked on the other side of the iron bridge with the motor running waiting on him. Monkey had seen the car as he crossed the bridge but did not realize what was going on until the guy ran out of the building. I had called the police by this time and was in total shock as to how close I came to being robbed and did not even know it!

A state trouper came to the store and asked questions and said they would try to locate them. I told him I thought it was the two guys that had been in the store previously. The trooper told me it was against the law to enter a place of business with a ski mask on your face. He told me if someone came in the store wearing a ski mask to ask them to remove it and if they didn’t, to hold them at gunpoint and call the law. I learned later that the same two guys had been hanging around another market over in Gravel Switch that same morning but left probably because there was people around and going in and out of the premises.

Monkey worked for Hubert. He lived in a little trailor on Hubert’s property and helped out on the farm. He was in and out of the store often to pick up cigarettes, bread and such and we got to know each other. He was always pleasant and loved to watch the Discovery Channel on tv and talk about what he saw on there. I never knew him by any other name than Monkey but on this day I called him My Guardian Angel. I don’t know what would have happened had he not drove up at the very moment he did. Someone was looking out for me on that day and many other days in my life.

I don’t think they ever caught anyone because I never heard anything about it if they did. News travels fast in a small community like Forkland and people called to see if I was o.k. or needed anything. Other small groceries in surrounding communities were on the lookout for these people.

Mike Gorley came in my store and asked me why I did not lend him my car since I was so nice to him! He also ran through the door of the store in a ski mask later in the day as a joke! I guess they all thought I was so naive about the situation, they got a good laugh out of it. I didn’t care I was just so happy everything turned out the way it did. I guess there are angels without wings all around us. (To be continued)