“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
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
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
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.