There is an old general store that has been closed for some years in the remote community of Valley View, Kentucky. What surprised me was who lived inside.

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 clapboard siding, a long and slender front porch, and a perch that gave it a commanding view of the road below. A Pepsi cola sign hung on the outside that reminded passerby of what type of beverages were sold.

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 community. 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 toward me with the other.

I told him I was a photographer and historian who was curious about the old store. After a brief discussion, I learned that he owned and had once operated the old store – and still lived inside despite its deteriorated outward appearance.

I am not sure how coherent the man was. He complained about a buzzing sound inside his ears, people conversing to him despite no one else nearby, and about the Japanese. He was convinced that I was of Japanese lineage but went nowhere with that conversation. Outside of the small talk about the store, much of what he had said was barely recognizable.

I worried about his well-being after departing. It’s had been a long, cold winter, and I had hoped that he kept warm and dry in that old general store down at Valley View.