The sign just outside of town read “Population 750.” That was over 35 years ago, but it was a proud moment when they put up the sign Welcome to Campbellsburg. That road, Highway 421, runs straight through the city, turning into Main Street, and then back out again. As a little kid, the city was big. No one told me that I really lived in a very small town.
I had lots of freedom, within a range, to roam where I wanted. My dad held employment at the bank on Main Street. After school sometimes and on Saturday mornings, I could go to the free-range places in the center of town while he finished his work.
Cook’s Pharmacy, located just next door to the United Citizens Bank at that time, intrigued me with all the merchandise they carried. For, aside from being a drug store, it was also a general store with a host of fascinating merchandise. A small jewelry area, a toy section with a small assortment of stuffed animals, a magazine section (the former location of internet lyric searches and the latest issues of Tiger Beat), the school supply section, cards, and candy. I spent my time at Cook’s browsing around, imagining how the school supplies would enable me to be a teacher or planning how I could save money for some make-up to use someday. Elsie worked behind the counter, and she was always kind and gentle, even if I didn’t purchase anything.
Often, I visited Sue’s Beauty Shop. My Nannie and many of the older women in Campbellsburg had standing weekly appointments to get their hair washed and curlered and set. Sue and Pam let me sit in the dryer seats and watch and listen, and sometimes I volunteered to sweep up hair or straighten the nail polish display. The smells of shampoo and permanent solution and woman perfume and hairspray fused all together and seeped out of the doorway, a screen door and a wooden door. I liked the way the door sounded, first one and then the other, going in or going out, creaking just so.
The neighboring establishment to Sue’s produced odors of its own. Just around the edge of the building, and through the heavier spring-loaded front door of James’ Java Shop, all of the aromas of drip coffee and hot griddle and fresh pie greeted me every time. Four-top tables covered in vinyl tablecloths, wooden chairs with green pleather on the seats, and a soda counter complete with spinny stools–this is where coffee happened and where local farmers smoked their cigarettes and talked about stuff, where families could go to dinner as a special once in a while, where a kid could get a chocolate milkshake made by Eileen or Mamie. The best hamburgers I ever remember came from that little kitchen and the modest culinary skills of Malcolm and his staff. One of the most delectable treats, that I can still taste if I think about it just right, was a hot honey bun that Mamie grilled with butter on the griddle. Sometimes, if she was talking to me while it cooked, it got a little crispy on the bottom. No matter, because it still held the buttery sugary heat. Maybe it even tasted better because she was busy visiting with people.
The Carol Ann Shop was next door to the Java Shop; the two businesses were connected by a hallway, so it was really logical to go after the Java shop, or before. I could spend what seemed like hours in there, dreaming myself older so I could wear the women’s fashions on display. I pretended in my mind to have a cash register and a store of my own where I could sell materials and a rainbow of thread spools. Carol Ann babysat us often, and when she established her business, I felt she became a very important grown-up.
When I was little, that was my big city world. A little town tucked away somewhere off of Interstate 71. It wasn’t a perfect community, and I knew so much even then. But it was and is one of the sanctuaries for my memories. It holds stacks of photographs and movie reels of sacred spaces and tattered saints who lived life in and around Main Street.