St. Marys, pride of the Mountain state,
St. Marys, birthplace of heroes great,
When the band plays Dixie, how my heart thrills,
To me it means St. Marys, the jewel of the hills.
There's where folks smile when they greet you,
Every one is tickled to meet you,
For the rest of my days, I'll be singing the praise
Of St. Marys, my home town.
Now don't get me wrong - I love St Marys, but sometimes I just have to look at that little town for exactly what it is -- a little town -- in a little county -- in a little state. As my old pal Grumps says, "St Marys - a small town with big-hearted people."
And I'm not saying life is slow there, but to tell you the absolute truth, it's so slow in St Marys that the Ohio River only runs by three days a week and even if we did have one of those 7-11 places, it would open at 9:30 and close at quarter past eight.
You know quarter past eight - that's when they take the sidewalks in and put the tombstones out in small towns.
Law enforcement you ask? Sure, we had law enforcement. We had a regular Chief Of Police and a real four-door Ford Police Car with a big shiny sireen and fading letters on the doors proclaiming St Marys Police.
And there weren't any police problems like a feller reads about in the newspapers these days, either. We only had one policeman and he got to be The Chief, so personnel problems were kept to a minimum. And he was visible too, because on the southeast corner of the Second Street and Washington Street intersection where the Pleasants County stop light was there was a regular marked parking place for our black Ford Police Car with a sign proclaiming Police Car No Parking. Folks would walk by, look at the sign real intent like and say, "Yep, that's where the police car sits." It sure did make us all feel safe as knew we could count on Chief Riggs being on the job, sitting there in the Police Car watching things not happen.
But when something did happen, there was swift resolution, as we didn't have those modern computer glitches, outages, mis-communication, shift changes, and all the other stuff the modern world has to endure.
Nosireebob, we had real face-to-face communication in those days. That's because cattywampus from the Police Car Parking Spot on the northeast corner of the Second Street and Washington Street intersection is the First National Bank. And upstairs on the second floor of The Bank Building was the Phone Company - which had real local ladies doing real local telephone stuff. And none of that Operator business either. These ladies were called Centrals and when a boy wanted to talk with his grandmother, alls he had to do was pick of the phone and say, "Central? I want to talk to my grandma." Now, Centrals were exceptionally knowledgeable and would say, "Which one?" Then the boy would tell Central which one and quicker than a cat can yawn, he would be connected to Grandma. By golly, a boy can't get that kind of service from those Verizon folks, that's for sure!
Anyhow, extending from the front side of The Bank Building was a piece of electric conduit about three and a half feet long. It went horizontal for about two and a half feet, then gently curved downward. At the outside end of the conduit was a large metallic shade about 18 inches in diameter. Inside, protected from the weather by the large metallic shade, was a small red light bulb.
Nothing too fancy, but was effective and here's how it worked: Chief Riggs would sit in his St Marys Police Car looking up the northern two blocks of Second Street and from time to time he would get out and look down the southern two blocks of Second Street. Most of the time everything was quiet and when the Baltimore and Ohio train came through the middle of Downtown seven times a day, the Chief could get some much needed rest -- there sure wasn't much lawbreaking going on when a train was going right down your main commercial thoroughfare, blocking your getaway route.
So, anyways, when Trouble did occur -- which was usually one of The Horseweed Gang, a colorful group of fellows we'll get to later, sleeping one off in someone's yard, the complainant would pick up the phone and call Central. Central would get the nature of the the Trouble and the location of the crime, flip a little switch which would turn on the red light hanging above the front door of the bank. When the Chief saw the red light was on, he knew there was Big Trouble and would then get out of his St Marys Police Car, walk across the street, go up the steps to the phone company, talk to the Central - who would give him the details and location of the crime. The Chief would then have a sip of coffee, walk down the steps, cross the street -- if a train wasn't going north to Pittsburgh with a big load of lumber -- get in his Police Car and take care of The Trouble.
This was law enforcement at its finest and, bless their hearts, everyone felt good themselves in St Marys, My Home Town.
That southwest corner of Main Street - also called Second Street, which made sense to me as the street before that was called First Street, until folks got uppity and such and changed the name to Riverside Drive - was important to a young lad for several different reasons. One was the time my pop and I had just come out of Triplett Bros. Hardware after purchasing some shotgun shells so we could go out to the ridge and get rid of the critters on the property. I noticed there was a Methodist church on the corner and just across the street and down by the alley, there was another Methodist church. Even as a Young Hillbilly, I couldn't wondering why that was. Heck, in a town that small, why would there be a need for two Methodists churches just like there were two Churches Of Christ? A boy wonders about things like that when there isn't much else to wonder about in a small town.
So I overs to Pop and ask, "Pop, how come St Marys has two Methodist churches and two Churches Of Christ?" That was the day my pop taught me all about the church business. He said, "Well sonny, this is the United States of America and we have freedom of religion, so alls a feller needs to start a new church is a Holy Bible and a resentment, bless their hearts." My pop was real smart in the Ways Of The Hill Folks and his answer sure made sense to me.
Years later, I noticed there were a lot of churches everywhere in West Virginia and got to wondering about that too. Turns out that we have a kind of unwritten law here in the hills that requires every male child over the age of 18 who has ever survived an industrial accident to get his own copy of the Holy Writ, go up the nearest holler and start his own church where he can talk for hours and hours and hours about The Master's Un-ending Mercy -- as it applies to him.
Why we have the same number of bars is a whole different question, but it is suspected the reason is the same.
Triplett Bros. - Hardware and Fine Furnishings - was a right neat place as those good folks sold just about everything any one could want except for groceries and those liquid refreshments that everybody consumed but denied it -- unless they were out-of-town to a convention, when it was alright. One of those items was car paste in an little round can which the Chief would purchase every once in while to take up to the jail and get a couple of trusties to clean and polish the Police Car. Those ol' boys did a nice job and I reckon their folks were real proud of the good work they were doing while they waited out their 72 hours eating baloney sandwiches, smoking hand-rolled Bugle cigarettes they made with the county-provided tobacco and generally having a nice time.
One time they had no sooner finished the job and the Chief had transported the Police Car to its usual spot when it commenced to rain. Now, there is another un-written law in the hills that says after a car is freshly polished and it begins to rain, proper etiquette requires grown men and boys to stand out in that rain so's they can watch the water bead up on the new wax job. The usual comment was, "Boy, it sure is beadin' up nice, ain't it?" The accepted reply is, "Yup."
I reckon the boys at the jail felt real good about themselves after that. But on this particular day there were only boys watching the beading and one of them - who will go un-named as the statute of limitations may not have expired, had what all thought was a good idea. The plan was discussed, duties assigned with the action was to take place in one week.
Across Main Street was a well-known restaurant named The Elf, which was owned and operated by a gentleman from out on the other ridge named Brady Locke and catered mostly to teenagers and what town folks liked to call "The Country Trade" -- and others no too high up on the social scale.
Now it so happened that Mr Locke was no fan of Chief Riggs, owing to some difficulties locating, arresting, and transporting Mr Locke's brother to the local pokey after a hard day's fishing and imbibing along Middle Island Creek, just above Fishpot. There were other rumors, too, but they mostly had to do with a woman, and when that stuff starts, everything is rumor. We really didn't care about rumors when we were being teenagers in St Marys, My Home Town, so we just left rumoring to the church ladies.
Anyways, we enlisted the assistance of Mr Locke, who was only too happy to oblige, since several of us were good customers and had kept the fact that Brady liked to play pitty-pat with the cook to ourselves. So, one of the boys picked up the Elf's telephone, and using his deepest adult-like voice, reported to Central that he had just seen a mysterious automobile sitting in the middle of Imlay Field, which was the football and baseball field for St Marys High School -- Home Of The Blue Devils. It stills beats me to death how a school whose colors are purple and gold can be named The Blue Devils -- but I reckon Blue Devils is better than Purple Pleasantsonians or Golden Grizzlies -- or something just as dumb since there has probably never been a griz within fifteen hundred miles of St Marys, My Home Town.
Phone Man reported that just before he had hung up, he heard Central say, "Oh My God, turn on the light, Now!" We knew we were on our way and instructed Lookout to take up his position in front of Phillip's Drugstore, Your Home Town Rexall Pharmacy, which was just across the street from the side door of The Bank Building that led up the steps to The Telephone Office. That always confused me too. Why, in a downtown only five blocks in length would there be two drugstores, since in the middle of the next block up was the Central Drug Store, Your Home Town Cut-rate Pharmacy?
Excitedly but nonchalantly gazing out the Elf's window, we saw Chief Riggs eventually look up and see the Red Trouble Light. He quickly got out of The Police Car and rapidly headed toward the Phone Company door. At least he went as rapid as a mid-50's man standing no more than five feet eleven inches and weighing right at 265 pounds can go. It seemed like a million years to us, though.
As soon as Chief Riggs entered the side door, Lookout scurried down to the Elf and gave us the high sign. The coast was clear.
Now, getting back to the jail and the inmates and the Police Car and the wax job, you get the idea of the planning that had gone into this job. One of the gang had a distant cousin - his mother always made sure 'distant' got in there, and besides that, it was on his pa's side - who was one of the inmates that polished the car and had slipped us the ignition key while he was working, knowing he wouldn't get caught as no one in their right mind would call Central with a Trouble Call when the Police Car was being cleaned and waxed.
Hurrying down the Court House hill, we sped it over to Triplett Bros., had an extra key made, then beat it back up the Court House hill and returned the original key. None of your Hollywood script writers ever had a better plan than this one, bygolly!
Busting through the restaurant door and crouching real low, all of us --Phone Man, Look Out, Key Man and Driver Man scurried to the Police Car. Silently but quickly opening the door, we got in, and using our purloined key, started the engine, popped that Ford in first and headed north up Main Street. Turning right at Mose Corum's Confectionary, Cold Beer and Hot Dogs, we went a half block then turned left and went up all brick Craig's Hill, curved to the right at Ross Williamson's, which was just beside the Josephs, and continued our course up Dewey Avenue.
Dewey Avenue ends at its intersection with The St Marys Pike -- which is now called Rte 16, although I still believe The St Marys Pike has a much classier ring to it -- so we stopped the car in front of the Mrs J E Roberts house, got out and readied ourselves for the next phase of being a teenager in St Marys, My Home Town.
Lookout took up his next position and looked up the Pike Hill and then over to Rte 2. Seeing nothing, he gave the high sign again and the rest of the fellers started pushing the Police Car across the street, up on the high school property and onto the football field right at the fifty yard line.
Locking the door proper like, we hurried out of the field, disposed of the key, giggled and fell down laughing, then headed back Downtown.
Now, when Chief Riggs saw that the Police Car was missing, he figured out real police-like-quick that the heist was probably done by locals and rapid action would solve the case. He headed back to the Telephone Company just as the out-of-breath boys took of position on the steps of the U S Post Office, Saint Marys, West Virginia.
When The Chief got back to the Telephone Office to call the sheriff for assistance, Central informed him that another mystery phone call had come in shortly after the first reporting a car accident on the other side of Emerick's Hill, right where it turns left to go out Horseneck Road, just past the Narrows. It was later reported that there had not been an actual accident and the sheriff got howling mad. The boys on the post office steps thought that was right funny as the sheriff was one of those adults who either forgot he had been a kid or never had a childhood. We mostly just ignored him, preferring Chief Riggs as a pal.
The next ranking law enforcement officer was the West Virginia Conservation Officer by the name of John Casto - whom we also liked and called The Possum Cop. Mr Casto responded to the Official Police Call For Assistance, sped to the Bank Building where he collected Chief Riggs and together they headed for the St Marys High School football field - the reported location of the mysterious car. There, wrapped heavily with toilet paper, was the St Marys Police Car with a crudely-lettered sign proclaiming TRICK OR TREAT sitting proudly on the roof.
For several days after that, Chief Riggs drove around town wearing his Adult Face, but we all felt safe knowing he liked a good trick as well as the next feller.
An that was Halloween years ago in St Marys, My Home Town.
** Lyrics to St. Marys, My Home Town, provided by Peggy J Barkwill - a great sister.