1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Old Man Dixon
John McCurdy 11-09

“Gimme a card of them pipes and a two boxes of that Black Maria tabaccy, if you please.” I can, after 60 years, still hear that guttural, rasping voice of Mr. Dixon. It was hard to understand him, he knew it and he did not say any more than just what was necessary!

I was 14 years old and it was Saturday and I was a clerk in the J.D. Fitzpatrick & Sons General Merchandise Store in Kerr’s Creek, near Lexington. J.D. Fitzpatrick was the father of the present owner W.E. Fitzpatrick and the store was a landmark in the rural Rockbridge County of Virginia.

Old Man Dixon, and I mean no disrespect either now or then in referring to him. Everyone did so, although that is no excuse for a 14 year old talking about a 60 or more year old man! He lived in a cabin, possibly one room, certainly no more than two, an outside toilet and with a front porch just on the bank of the “Big Spring”, a shallow body of water maybe 3 acres in its expanse, that came up from two large rocks on its eastern bank. I think he may have been a relative of the Wash family that owned the house on the eastern side of the spring, The cabin, of course, is gone now, the victim of our lack of respect for things, until they are gone! I can recall that often when riding my bicycle down that road, I would see him, setting quietly in a rocking chair looking out over the spring!  I was really looking out for his dog, “Tinker”, which had a hatred for kids on bicycles!

At least once a month, after the mailman, Mr. Deaver, had delivered his Pension check from the Government, Old Man Dixon would put an empty feed sack over his shoulder and walk the mile or so to US Route 60 and the several hundred yards across the old steel bridge over Kerr’s Creeks to Fitzpatrick’s Store. Mr. Fitzpatrick would always, very deferentially, speak to him and then excuse himself and go to his house just a few steps away. Leaving me or Homer Plogger, the full-time clerk, to wait on Mr. Dixon.

When Mr. Dixon had his shopping complete he’d take his bag of provisions outside and set down on the bench on the front porch. Using his razor-sharp knife he would shave off thin slivers from the Black Maria plug tobacco, and tamp in it into one of the Corn-cob pipes which he had just bought. Mr. Dixon each month on his trip to the store bought a card of corn-cob pipes! For those of you who may not know, smoking pipes were nearly always displayed on a large cardboard advertising board, called a card, to which the pipes were clipped, 12 or 24 to a card. He also, always bought several large boxes of Kitchen Matches! When he finally ready to light his pipe, it would take several matches and some fearfully deep and quick breaths to get the tobacco lit, keeping it lit called for deep breaths that produced horrible rasping sounds from deep in his chest. He would set awhile accepting, acknowledging, nodding, to the solicitous greeting of the customers coming to the store, he’d watch me pump gasoline up into the large glass bowls atop the gas pumps and then, I guess after having all the fun he could stand for the day; after a little while, he'd put his sack over his shoulder, and return to his home at the Big Spring.

I once asked Miz Valle, (Mr. Billie’s wife), why Mr. Fitzpatrick nearly always left when Mr. Dixon came into the store. “I think he makes Daddy sad” she said simply and sadly, “Daddy and he were in the War, you know.” She turned away.

It saddens me now, when it is too late, that so little is known of Mr. Dixon. I asked an old friend who lived only a few hundred yards down the road, unfortunately I asked him in the twilight of his life when some memories were no longer clear, he didn’t remember him at all. I asked an acquaintance who owned part of the land around the “Big Spring”, he could tell me nothing either.

I remember hearing that he was gassed in WW1 and his lungs and vocal chords were badly burned by the “Mustard Gas”, and that he received several high decorations for valor. I imagine he would have gladly given them back, in exchange for his broken life. It was one of my first encounters with the effects of war and was soon forgotten only to be remembered now.