1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


The Upper Room
John McCurdy 09

In 1940 we moved back to Virginia after my fathers short and unsuccessful coal mining partnership with my Mothers Dad and Uncle in Mason county, West Virginia.

Dad had gotten a job as the assistant Commissary Manager at VMI. As he put it, that meant he was a glorified store clerk, but it was job with a secure future and a few benefits and the depression was still dragging our country down.

He’d rented a house on the banks of Kerr’s Creek just where Route 60 crosses. It was supposed to be temporary but our family lived there about 10 years until they bought a farm near Rockbridge Baths. Va. The Fitzpatrick family owned the house, which was originally a log cabin, and they lived next door and operated the neighborhood General Store beside their house.

The store building was a large frame two-story building with an upstairs and down front porch, the original owners of the store had likely lived in the upstairs, as the stairs to the upper story had entrances on the downstairs porch as well as inside the store. The doors leading upstairs were always locked. No one, as far as I knew, except the family, had ever been in the upstairs.

When I was about 14 year old, the young lad who had previously helped out in the store on Saturdays had other responsibilities and quit. I asked for the job and for some reason, likely Mrs. Valle, his wife, I got it!

I pumped gas and counted eggs and toted stuff to the cars of our customers and when summer came Mr. Billie, the owner, asked me if I would like to work the summer, I was delighted. I had a job!.

There was always another employee at the store, either Mr. Davis or Homer Plogger, and, of course neither of them had any problems with telling me what to do. We sold groceries, pumped gas up into the large glass tops so it would flow into the customers tank by gravity. The store carried men’s and women’s and children’s clothing and shoes and work boots, we had fabric for sale by the yard, hardware supplies up to and including horseshoes! We would buy eggs and country butter, berries, black walnuts and other delicacies including Ginseng.

Mr. Fitzpatrick was the only one who would buy the furs and the Ginseng and where he stored them I had no idea. Occasionally he would unlock the door to the stairway leading to the second floor and one could hear him moving around and sometimes one would hear nothing but I had the notion he might keep them upstairs.

On one rainy day in the summer, he told me, “Johnny, I’d like for you to go upstairs and sweep and clean out the large room at the top of the steps, you won’t have a need to go into any of the other rooms! Throw the trash out the window on the back and take it away later”. Boy! Was I excited, I was about to have my chance to see the upstairs that had intrigued me, (and others) for years!

Lordie, that back room was a mess, ancient walnuts, onions, herbs that I had no idea of, and dirt and dust over it all, around the wall were stacks of catalogs going back many years, there were boxes of shoes and racks of clothing and items I couldn’t classify, it was fascinating. I poked and I pried as much as I dared, but made sure I was making enough noise to sound as though I were working.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s voice called up the stairway and asked how I was getting along, he said, “I’m going to lunch, listen for Homer, he may need you to help him”, I looked out the back window and as soon as I saw him go in the back door of his home, I went to the front room!

It opened onto the upstairs front porch and was a bedroom. A bed and a dresser and a small table and chair were the only furniture. As if yesterday I can remember the cold chill that went over me when I saw that the covers of the bed were thrown aside as if someone had just gotten up, the impression of their body and head was still visible in the feather tick and on the long pillow that extended across the bed. A pair of mans trousers were hanging on the back of the chair and on the dresser were a pocket knife, a handkerchief and wallet and a quarter, two dimes and 4 pennies, everything covered with a thick layer of dust, the floor had several sets of recent footprints but nothing else had been disturbed for generations.

I have wondered for years about that room, the building burned down a few years later and a new building erected on the site. There was no way I could find out without confessing I had done what I had been forbidden to do, enter the room.

I wondered if perhaps Mr. Billie’s father or another relative had perhaps died in the room and it had just been kept the way it was, it would be my guess that the family, had in the early days of the store, lived on the second floor. Perhaps Mr. Fitzpatrick, when he had went upstairs had sometimes visited the room and quietly communed with what ever spirit was present, I wonder even yet.