The dark soil of Fayette County disappeared as the heavy snow quickly covered the newly plowed corn fields as we passed Roller Haven skating rink in Washington Court House.
A little further down the road, a tall, lanky man wearing a white baker’s hat crossed in front of us just as my dad and I caught the smell of fresh-baked bread emanating from the old Pennington Bread Company.
The snow was thick, and quickly falling upon our windshield as we entered Court Street and approached the rust-red railroad tracks, where a man stepped out of his train-crossing shack, swinging his lantern, signaling us to stop. We heard the big locomotive approaching and my dad stepped on the breaks near the railroad crossing and brought the old Plymouth to a stop.
We pulled into a parking spot near the post office and hopped out of the car to begin Christmas shopping in the brightly decorated downtown.
“Merry Christmas,” the mailman in the gray uniform greeted us as we walked down the street enjoying the snow and the excitement of Christmas shopping.
I was excited for several reasons. My dad and I seldom had time together since he worked long hours, and I knew the hardware store up the street had what I was hoping to get for Christmas that year. My heart was set on a Lone Ranger cap gun set and a black mask every boy my age wanted at the time.
On the way down the street, we stopped at the G.C. Murphy Five and Ten and my dad bought us a bag of our favorite Nut Goodies candy to munch on as we headed toward the hardware store and the toy gun holster.
The store was brimming with toys. At once I spied the holster with white handled cap pistol and mask. As my dad handed the woman behind the counter money, she smiled and said, “Merry Christmas!”
“If you don’t say anything to your mom, I’ll give you this present now,” my dad said. “Let’s walk around downtown for a while. We have a bunch of time to kill.”
Our family was poor, but he had wanted to do something special for me for Christmas. We stopped at several stores and even walked down to the railroad tracks and talked to the gentleman in the little gray shack who had stopped us earlier.
“That’s a mighty fine-looking holster, son,” he said with a big smile.
As we walked, I told my dad I was looking forward to our party that night with all my cousins when we exchanged gifts. I told him we were going to watch the Lone Ranger Show that told how John Reid had become the Lone Ranger.
John and his brother, Dan Reid, were Texas Rangers. As they entered a steep canyon the outlaws ambushed them. They killed all the rangers except for one.
A few hours later, an Indian named Tonto found Reid and cleaned and dressed his wounds. Tonto told him the rest of the rangers were dead, and he was now the “Lone Ranger.” The rest is television history.
My dad smiled as I told him the story. I was only six years old and he laughed several times at my excitement.
“Dad, do you mind if I look at my holster again?” I asked.
“No, go ahead,” he replied.
I crawled over the seat and raised the blanket. My holster wasn’t there! It was gone! I felt the blood slowly drain from my face. I started to cry. My dad pulled the car over just before we left the corporation limit. It must be here somewhere, he told me. It wasn’t.
He said we would head back to town and retrace our steps. It was still snowing heavily with four or five inches already on the ground. We stopped in every store we had visited and didn’t find the holster.
“Do you mind if we walk down to the railroad shack?” I asked my dad.
Within a few minutes, we arrived at the shack just as the railroad man was putting on his overcoat and galoshes to head out the door.
“Are you are looking for this?” as he pulled the holster off the shelf. “I thought you’d be back for it.”
I clapped my hands, jumping up and down with delight. I was so happy he had found my holster.
The railroad man shook my dad’s hand as he handed me the holster and said, “Merry Christmas, son!”
I took the sack out of my coat pocket to offer the railroad man some Nut Goodies.
“Give him the entire bag, son,” my dad said, as we left the small shack. “That is all we have to give.”
I wiped a tear away as we walked side-by-side up the street. I saw a tear escape from my dad’s eye sliding down his cheek.
Other than at the time of my mother’s death, it was the only time I had ever seen my dad cry.
Merry Christmas from the Haley Family.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.
His recently published book, “Around the Fire: Stories from Here and There” — comprised of his nonfiction stories in the News Journal through the years — is available through the Clinton County History Center in Wilmington, or you can reach Pat directly at 937-205-7844 or via email at [email protected] to purchase a copy.