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Main Street

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

A few days ago a friend and I went to Emmitsburg for lunch. I paused as I got out of the car when I realized that no one was in town, no one that I could see. There weren't even very many cars parked on Main Street. Where is everyone?

I jarred myself awake and realized that the year is 1998, not 1940 when I first began to get acquainted with Emmitsburg.

As I pick through my memories I am finding shops and businesses and the people who owned them. I am remembering people whom I would see at these places of business and meet as I walked down the street. Where did we begin to become a part of this place? We began with the bank. After all, a town has to have a bank, doesn't?

On the Tuesday after Labor Day, 1940, John and I headed for the, even then, Farmer's and Mechanic's Bank to open an account. (How could we open an account? We had no money.) But we did open an account that day. There we met the three employees: Frank Weant, Alice Roddy (Shorb), and George Wilhide. I don't remember his title but it was obvious that George was ‘the banker’. We got a warm welcome from all of them and answered all the questions we were asked. "What brought you to Emmitsburg? Where are you from? Where are you living?

George Wilhide and his wife, Margaret, lived a few doors from us and nearly every morning we saw George as he walked to work; dark suit, white shirt and a snap brimmed hat. He was the very essence of a business man, a good person to take care of money.

After we concluded our bank business, we went to the Post Office, and rented a mail box and chatted with the Postmistress, Mrs. Coombs, who also welcomed us to Emmitsburg. We saw her nearly every day when we went to pick up our mail, most of which was from home. Being in a new and strange place made mail very important to us.

As we settled in, I began to notice the personality and personalities of Emmitsburg. Emmitsburg was a busy place. No matter which day or time of day there were always people standing in small groups, talking. There was shopping to be done, errands to be run, and along with these activities there was news to be disseminated, advice to be given and received, secrets to be revealed. Everyone had something to talk about.

Emmitsburg was a clean town, I noticed. The pavement outside each house was swept every day. No sweeper looked more elegant than Mrs. Patterson, our land lady. A woman of about 55, she kept herself immaculate, hair in place, heels, a touch of red on each cheek and lips, earrings, and of course a clean apron. She enjoyed giving her opinion of the subject of the day.

Another sweeper who helped to make the town look clean was Mr. Matthews. He tidied up the walk in front of his store where household appliances and furniture were sold. (We bought our first refrigerator from him in 1941, and our first TV in 1951. He was a dear genial man, immaculately dressed in dark suit and white shirt. Did he have a watch chain across the front of his vest? My memory says he did.

I soon learned that Monday was the day to make vegetable soup. All the houses on the street gave out the aroma of vegetables and beef cooking. I like vegetable soup and I soon joined others at the butcher shop to buy a soup bone.

There were two Bollinger meat markets in town, one Dory's and the other Ray's. Dory's was the nearest to me so there I shopped. At times the carcass of a fresh-killed beef would be hanging in the shop waiting to be divided and sold. I don't remember ever seeing a pig's carcass, but I did on occasion see a pig being fed on table scraps in a back yard or two in the alley behind Main Street. Surely those pigs were being fattened for consumption. However, I also know that pork was not sold in the summer time.

Meat was a commodity that required the forfeiting of ration stamps during the war, but my memory is vague about that. I don't even know whether or not a soup bone required a stamp. Nevertheless, I and others had our vegetable soup on Monday.

It didn't take much rubber-necking to keep track of the sick as they made their way to Dr. Cadle's Office where illnesses of a personal nature and of others were completely aired. There was always time to hear from each waiting patient as there were no scheduled appointments. First come first served the regulated the patient consultations. "Next?"

And then on to Houser's Drug store to get a prescription filled, where there was a recounting of that same illness that required the prescription. Who doesn't like to tell the world about a new ailment or a new symptom? And in a small town everyone is a good listener.

In the fall, homesickness would wash over me. Everyone, everywhere was preserving the fall harvest. All these essences of spices that made up chili sauce, catsup, pickles, applesauce- turmeric, allspice, dill, cinnamon nutmeg filled the air, and brought back memories of my mother's kitchen where as long as I can remember I helped in this task. I peeled the tomatoes, cut the corn, put the apples through a food press, washed the jars, and I must confess I hated those boring tasks. That labor served me well though, as it was my schooling for preserving food in my own kitchen, where it was more fun!

These "Bits and Pieces" of Main Street have emptied my mind for now, except for an anecdote on the light side of life. occasionally, a group of men, John Hollinger Sr., Guy Baker Sr., Gene Hardmann, John and others would drive to either the bay or to Conowingo Dam for a day of fishing. On one of these trips, Gene Hardman caught a very large fish. I wish I could remember the kind of fish, and where it was caught, but it was a "prize" to behold. As soon as the party got to the east end of Main Street, Gene got out of the car and walked the entire length of the street holding his fish at arm's length. "Why?" you might ask? You guessed it. He wanted the entire town to see his fish and to hear the details of his landing of it. Why not? It was a lovely fish story. True, too.

Have your own memories of the Stores on Main Street? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards

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