1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Memories of Lexington and V. M. I.

John McCurdy - May 17, 2011

When I was a kid and living on Kerr’s Creek near Lexington, Virginia. I spent a lot of my time in town, my dad ran the Commissary at V. M. I. and I worked many Saturdays and several summers for him. While at Lexington High School I played football in the autumn and ran for the track team in the spring, (Lexington did not have a baseball team). I delivered groceries all around Lexington in the little red International truck that belonged to the Commissary, I didn’t have a license but it didn’t seem a problem to me or to my dad. The Commissary sold to the Faculty and staff of V. M. I. and about anyone else and they would deliver. I drove very cautiously on the side streets of the town and never had any problems. I did learn a lot about the town.

I delivered Western Union telegrams occasionally on Saturdays in 1943-44 during the years the School for Special Services was at Washington and Lee University. Lots of interesting insights into the lives of the people attending the school, especially the nude lady that answered the door of one of the fraternity houses being used as female Officers Quarters. I met Clark Gable and Tyrone Power while they were in attendance at the school. Red Skelton I met and got to know a little at the home of our neighbors on Kerr’s Creek, the Fitzpatrick's; Skelton was a friend of Margie Fitzpatrick’s beau “Red” Sisly), who she later married. The years of WW2 & after saw many dramatic changes in Lexington. Suddenly there were pre-fab building and Quonset huts on every vacant lot. There were men in uniform in the stores and on the streets, more probably than at any time since the Civil War! Diapers were strung from every nail and clothesline available.

While in school I often walked across town to meet my dad and ride home with him. I would walk across the campus of W&L, past the R. E. Lee Episcopal Church, the W&L Presidents house where General Lee had lived and the stable where once Traveler was kept, his stall was still there in one corner, hay was on the floor perhaps the hay Traveler had slept on when he was alive.

Walking along the walk I would meet Cadets who were obliged to honor General Lee’s memory by carrying a hand salute from fifty feet before the Chapel to fifty feet past it. I never saw a cadet fail to so do! The front door would often be open and I would go in and set down in a pew for a moment, feeling as though General Lee might walk in any minute, his presence seemed so near. I'd walk past the faculty houses of V. M. I. and W&L and enter the Memorial Gate that marked the entrance to V. M. I.. Often the Corps would be assembled for Retreat and I always stopped to watch, especially the horses and caissons of the cavalry. The Post Band, of 9 to 12 men, were professional musicians who also had other jobs at V. M. I., one was a butcher, another an electrician, Bill Swihart was the Post Bugler. Bill had a room in Jackson Hall, that opened on the stairway going up to the balcony and down to what was referred to as the "little" gymnasium on the floor beneath. There were many little rooms and hide-aways in the buildings of V. M. I.. In some of them staff or employees had cots and other personal belonging and often lived there, unbothered by rent or the other expenses of residence. One summer a lad named Tommy Moore and I shared a room in the little building near the Mess Hall that was reputedly the oldest building on the post, once the hospital. It recently was the Chaplains Office.

It was a different world from the present, doors were never locked, one could gain entry to any building by a hearty push on the massive oak doors. Several lads, other than myself, sons of faculty or staff members, had the run of the place. The indoor swimming pool in the basement under Jackson Hall was the only place I can remember being locked, but we had our ways of entry. The almost forgotten stairs down from Jackson Hall through an unfinished part led us down into the pool area, unfortunately we always made so much noise when we were in there that we were nearly always heard and thrown out with dire treats of telling our parents or some even more threatening promise, I don't recall the threat ever being carried out.
"Uncle Charlie" Chittum was the athletic equipment guardian, washing and repairing the uniforms of the various teams, he provided my brother and I with track shoes, baseball gloves and bats and other athletic equipment galore!

Herb Patchin was the Athletic Trainer and one individual we kids did not like, he seemed to always be the one who chased us out of the pool, off the basket-ball court and away from any amusement in which we were engaged.

The Football coach was then Pooley Hubert, who was one of the stars, along with Johnny Mack Brown, (the cowboy actor) at Alabama and with whose son I played football, His daughter, Pat was a red-haired beauty, the dream girl of all teen-aged boys.

More later,

John McCurdy ‘97

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