Ok, before you read my story, you have to listen to the 1939 version of “The Man That Comes Around.” The story will make way more sense once you do.
Way back when I was young, a person had to entertain himself. A couple minor problems were involved. My brother, myself, and perhaps other siblings were held prisoner on our estate in Ritchie county West Virginia. Actually the estate could more accurately be described as a brush farm with no running water, nor electricity. It was not unusual for my father to dump a handful of us kids there and leave us for weeks at a time to fend for ourselves. Now back to the point. When you are in the absolute middle of nowhere on Cain’s run deep in the boonies of West Virginia, you need to entertain yourself. All we had in the way of music was an old crank record player. The records had songs like “Turkey in the Straw,” and “My Golden Slippers.” “The Man That Comes Around” was one record we knew by heart. Well, eventually some worse than senseless scum broke into the farm house and stole the old victrola.
Now this gets to the growing up in Woodsdale part of the story. As a kid there were men that came to our house every single day. The men came around when my father went away. We actually had a milkman, a vegetable man, and a baker that came to our house, along with good old Wilbur, the mailman. Of course all these delivery men were just fine people. Let’s start with Mr. Bell, the milkman. When you had a family of nine, you went through a lot of milk. Mr. Bell’s dairy must have had just one cow that supplied milk to the Quinns. Mr. Bell drove a bright yellow milk truck of the old-fashioned kind. On the truck he had some other dairy items like maybe cream or butter. As kids we knew you could hit up Mr. Bell for some gum, and it was not too hard to get a nice big piece of crystal clear ice to suck on. When the mood hit Mr. Bell, he would donate a big glass bottle of some sort of orange drink to the neighborhood gang. Usually Mr. Bell had come and gone before we got up, but when he ran late, we hit him up for goodies. I still remember when they went to the one-gallon glass jugs. It was a big event. Cold days could be a problem. If you did not get the milk inside quickly enough, you had frozen milk coming out the top of the jug.
Vincent was the fruit and vegetable man. He always drove and old green truck with a scale and old- fashioned sliding doors. He brought the green beans, the bananas, the apples, oranges, grapes, and whatever else you might need. The back door would ring, and one of us would yell “It’s Vincent.” Vincent might let you snitch a strawberry or something, but the best time of year was when he had fresh apple cider from an orchard in Ohio. Man, to this day I have never had such good cider. It just had a touch of ferment on it, and we loved it. It seemed slightly carbonated.
Another back door guy was Mr. Blum. He brought the baked goods. In the back of his truck were huge sliding drawers that could be pulled out. Those drawers were full of baked goods — freshly baked goods like cookies and bread. Mr. Blem might flip you a big cookie. That was a major hit.
The guy who really knew the neighborhood upside down and backwards was Wilbur the mailman. He was like a member of the family. When he came up on the porch and put the mail in the little box by the door, he always chatted a little with my mother. He always loved to tease my sisters when they got letters from a boyfriend. Wilbur knew when it was a love letter, and he knew how to tease my sisters. Wilbur was the mailman forever. Wilbur made my grandfather’s dog famous, or my grandfather’s dog made Wilbur famous. Jeff (That was my grandfather’s dog.), no doubt named after Thomas Jefferson, was some sort of white collie. Jeff was smarter than most people. Somehow Jeff got it in his head to walk the mail route every day for 15 years with Wilbur. Jeff went down to the bus stop every day and met the bus Wilbur came on. At the end of the day Jeff left Wilbur at the bus stop. Whenever the Wheeling News-Register got hard up for a story, it did one on Jeff and Wilbur. My older brothers and sisters used to go on the mail route sometimes with Jeff and Wilbur. Jeff must have been getting dog treats. Well my brother and sisters figured it out and went with Wilbur. Soon they would get a cookie or two.
Now there are no men that come around. No one knows anyone. We all sit and stare at the computer. If you get a love email, there is no Wilbur to tease you. In those days no one ever locked their house. For 26 years our house was never locked. No one knew where the key was. One reason you never locked the door was that someone might need a place to sleep. With six sisters and two brothers there were a lot of friends. One of the joys growing up was to wake up on Saturday morning and see who was sleeping on the couch. Inevitably some poor soul did not make it home and just came in a slept on our couch. Who would notice? With nine of our own a miscount was possible.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.