An old general store in the remote settlement of Valley View, Kentucky has been closed for some years. What surprised me was who lived inside of it.
Many years ago, I stopped by and took a peek in through the dirty glass, and found that much of the interior from its days as a general store remained intact. It was a beautiful building in its hay day, with white wood siding, a long and narrow front porch, and a perch that gave it a commanding view of the street below. A Pepsi cola sign hanging outside still reminds passerby of its former status.
I could only daydream about the “old days” of people sipping Ale-8 and smoking tobacco on the front porch of what was a community gathering spot. Before the advent of soulless and bland all-in-one groceries and hypermarkets in far-flung suburbs and cities, the general store was the hub of activity for the locale. It’s where you heard the latest gossip, picked up the daily newspaper, and caught up on other life-and-death matters.
It was in the dead of summer when I drove through Valley View last year for the first time in years. Driving by the old store, my interest was piqued when I saw a new blue tarp to the side of the old building and what appeared to be stacks of coal or some other fuel for cooking and heating.
I parked my car by the side of the road and walked up the steps to the general store, peering in the dirty glass much as I had back then. A crackly voice barked out from the other side of the front porch.
“Hey, who are you?”
I was startled. An elderly gentleman, with a thin frame and a face covered with soot, approached me. He was holding a sandwich in one hand and motioned at me with the other.
I told him I was a photographer and historian and was very much curious about the old store. After a brief discussion, I learned that he owned and operated the old store – and still lives in it despite its outward appearance.
I am not sure how coherent the man was. He complained about the buzzing in his ears, people speaking to him despite no one around, and about the Japanese. He was convinced that I was Japanese but went nowhere with that conversation. Outside of the small talk about the store, much of what he said was barely recognizable.
I worried about his well-being after departing and heading north towards Richmond. It’s been a long, cold winter, and I hope that he’s been keeping warm and staying dry in that old general store down at Valley View.