By now you have read Betty Keffer Munsey’s article about Keffer’s Store and experienced a comprehensive account of how it all happened from the family’s viewpoint. It is an excellent article. I have asked in her post for comments from you readers about any experience or what you remember about Keffer’s store. In the meantime, I want to share my comments (more like a story) about my life growing up, and living just one minute’s walk from Keffer’s store—-
You could hear Minor Keffer’s laugh a half mile away and on a clear day a mile at least! He had the type of laugh that originated deep in his stomach, climbed upwards and jumped out when he threw back his head letting it fly. I guess that was my first and lasting impression of the man who was to nickname me “Butch”. I never asked why he called me Butch. I did not care because this was Minor and I suppose he was my choice to be a father figure while my Dad was “on the cure” with tuberculosis at the Catawba Sanitorium for nine years. So “Butch” it would be and no one else ever called me by that name.
Minor was well liked and highly respected by everyone. Children were drawn to him as Betty noted in her article. Whether I adopted Minor as a father figure or he adopted me as someone in need of a father figure, God only knows. I will get back to this later in this article.
I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1962 and departed the area to assume a job in Northern Shenandoah Valley. Some twenty years after that I began writing and doing radio work at the same time. I wrote a column for a statewide newspaper directed at farm and home, rural-type folks. The column was called Carroll’s Country Chatter and focused on my life growing up in the Catawba mountains. One, in particular, was called Minor Keffer’s Store that I wrote in August 1982. I want to share that with you now, 36 years later.
Not Just A Store
Minor Keffer’s store (or Catawba Mercantile if you want to get technical) was not just a store. It was a culture within itself. Sure, it looked like most any other rural general store with its offering of gas, groceries, clothing, hardware, feed, and about anything else you needed. If Minor did not have it, he could get it for you. So, why am I saying Keffer’s store was a culture within itself? Good question! I am going to answer this and if it gets a little “heavy” don’t worry. Just remember if I confuse you I am confusing myself, also. I have done that before. There will be no pop-quiz after I explain what culture is.
Here we go: A culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Okay? Now that wasn’t so bad. Not finished yet. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and as a result, contribute to society. For a boy nicknamed Butch, what I just told you isn’t that hard to understand.
I will now show you that Keffer’s store served the needs of rural Catawba, and while doing so, birthed a culture of beliefs, characteristics, and practices not available anywhere else in Catawba at that time. The store served as the hub of activity for the Valley. Regardless of whether you were coming or going, you would stop at Keffer’s store sooner or later. It was one of those places that you could not pass by. People stopped out of necessity, obviously, but many grew attached to the eternal good treatment shown them by Minor, June, his employees and later on Wayne and Betty.
People came in, especially at night, not only to buy but to socialize and learn. [Well I‘ll be dogged, I believe we have the beginnings of a culture here.] The store was a place to go to gossip and maybe be gossiped about; a place to cuss or discuss the weather; a place to tell lies and to hear lies told; a place to teach and learn; a place to buy, sell or trade with someone else; a place to get all the news of births, deaths and sicknesses, etc. The reason I told you all it was a place of culture was because it exhibited a pattern of human behavior that included thought, speech, action, and depended upon one’s capacity to learn and transmit knowledge to each other. It was a social center when people gathered there and shared each other’s company.
Folks, mostly men, came at night from all over the Valley. Some once a week, others two or three times weekly. There were a few like “Big Six” Thomas who was there every night.
Six, as Minor called him, hauled merchandise for Keffer’s store throughout the Valley and into three outlying counties. Big Six was a huge man with a constant smile across his sunburned face. He liked to tell jokes and would laugh as he told them. As he approached the punch line everybody was laughing at him telling it and when he finished he would let out a boisterous laugh that would rattle the glass candy case. Big Six was a legend in his own time as people old enough to remember him will agree.
Minor and Butch
I mentioned earlier that Minor nicknamed me Butch and he was the only one to call me that. I had a lot of respect for Minor and the whole family. He gave me work to do which included mowing grass, picking up trash, trimming the bank along 311 and Keffer Road, pruning grape vines and other tasks that I was capable of doing. There were two jobs that I remember quite well.
When the post office was moved out of the store into a cinderblock building, Minor hired me to paint the interior walls of the building. It turned out to be quite a job. I was painting most of the time while the post office was open and people coming in and out. Peggy Grant was postmaster and my mother Elizabeth worked there part-time. So Minor brought me gallon buckets of white paint and a 4” brush and my version of Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn began.
It started out well on day one of painting in the lobby. I made some progress and was pleased with my work. I was scheduled to resume painting the next morning as I walked into the lobby. To my surprise the walls I had painted looked as if no paint had been applied. Up to the store I went and told Minor that the paint was bad. He let out one of those big laughs and told me not to worry, just keep painting. Each day I would paint and paint but it was hard to cover the wall and I kept asking Minor for more paint. It was frustrating, but I could not back out. After the 3rd day, he asked me what I was doing with that paint. Before I could answer he gave me one of those Minor laughs. He said, Butch, that cinder block wall soaks up paint like a sponge and you have to keep painting the same area until you get a solid covering. Let me tell you now, I thought I would never get that done and it took me about 3 weeks to finish. He paid me well and I was pleased with that and glad to get it done.
The second job that stands out was a morning that he called me and asked if I could do a job that day. I never said no to Minor so that was easy enough. A few minutes later I headed out there. I was 16 or 17 at the time and had my driver’s license. He said Butch, I really need you today to do a very important job. I asked him if it was painting anything and he said no and just laughed. Then he got serious and told me that Big Six was under the weather and would not be there that day. Furthermore, the big delivery truck was loaded to take a delivery to a farm in Craig County and the farmer was needing it now.
So we walked around to the truck that only Six ever drove and my heart stopped. He wanted me to drive that monster loaded with rolls of barbed wire, boxes of staples, several bags of sweet feed and more bags of fertilizer than I could count. No way I could drive that truck on those narrow Craig roads. Minor put his arm on my shoulder and said, Butch you can handle this, I know I can depend on you. What could I say? I got in the truck and thought to myself Lord how I am I going to get to Craig and back, alive. My second thought was, Ronald Thomas you had better really be sick! Off I drove and down the road I went, and I noticed people were giving me all the room I needed.
Well, I made it to that farm that day and the farmer and two helpers unloaded the truck and I headed back to Minor’s store. I pulled into the back lot and walked into the store. Two local farmers were sitting in chairs and Minor was talking to them when I walked through the door. Minor looked at me and said to the two men, here comes Little Six and then he let go with that trademark laugh. My claim to fame: I had done the impossible. I had been Big (Little) Six for one day.
In Memory of Dr. Wayne M Keffer
I could not end the posts on Keffer’s store without remembering June and Minor’s son, Wayne, who was like a younger brother to me. We lived within hollering distance of each other and spent much time together.
Wayne passed away in 1990, way too young to leave us in his mid-40s. At the time of his death, he was my boss through the Virginia Tech Extension Division. That was a highlight of my Extension service career because I had watched him climb the ladder of success and believe to this day he would have been the Director of the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Service in the future.
I was Best Man at his wedding and a pallbearer at his funeral. Wayne was married to Nancy Kirby Keffer who passed away in 2015. Nancy and Wayne leave behind three children, Kim, Kevin and Kendall and at last count eight grandchildren.
.I remember in 1990 after the service concluded at the graveside, I walked away from the burial site a ways to deal with the grief I was experiencing. I had lost an adult son less than a year earlier and my heart was hurting. Minor walked over to me, tears streaming down his face. He looked at me and said, “We have lost Wayne.” We embraced and wept openly, Minor and Butch. I felt at that moment I was the “son” figure to him just as he had been the “father” figure to me years earlier. Four years later, Minor passed away but his legacy will live on forever. I will never forget him.
Like articles like this? Then you would love Echoes From Catawba Volume 1, Growing Up In Catawba Valley, Appalachia.
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