Cherry Tree was a homogeneous blend of folks from just about anywhere in the world. Hungarians, Italians, Poles and some, such as my family, whose origins was suspect but believed to be descended from the mixture of the Scotch-Irish peoples who inhabited the Appalachian Mountains from early on.
Daddy Fykes, also a resident of the upper end of Cherry Tree, was a black carpenter who often gathered food scraps from the slop buckets that were hung on nails outside a dwelling to feed to his hogs. Sadly, I recall his sorrow when the flood of ’63, or was it ’64, drowned the huge sow hog he had so laboriously taken care of. We little white kids were always a mite skittish about going around Daddy Fykes although I can’t recall a single instance of harm that he brought to anyone. Vivid in my mind is the memory of him laying out and accurately sawing a stair stringer, which, as I have learned since, is no mean feat. I recall his wife but not her name; my, what a good, good heart she had. She often would pass apples to me and my two sisters over the little ramshackle fence that separated our yards. To this day for some reason, the smell of cinnamon evokes a strong image of her.
Grade School days
Vivid in my memory are the late summer days in Cherry Tree’s little two-room schoolhouse when, just every now and then, through the drowsy summer air, came the hum of the tires of a passing automobile and that those same humming sounds that wafted through the open doors and windows of the school made it increasingly difficult for a small boy to concentrate on the lessons so ably given by Mrs. Frema Dingess and Mrs. Lucille Von Péchy. They were the only teachers I recall at Cherry Tree School. It was after all, a school containing the first three grades of grammar school. My good friend, Bob Piros, informed me that he had a very nice chat with Mrs. Dingess who is now 91 years old and resides in Chapmanville. She confirmed that yes, indeed, she was the principal and teacher of grades 2 and 3 at Cherry Tree Grade School and that Mrs. Von Pechy, who passed away in 1988, was the first grade teacher and assisted her with grades 2 and 3 as well.
How well I recall walking down the alleys of Cherry Tree with my sister Elsie, on our way to the little schoolhouse. I recall the spelling bees, the recesses spent outdoors, where, forsaking the swing sets and merry–go-round, we would pile sandstone into “castles”. How well I recall winters when a pot of water on the big Warm Morning heater in each of the two rooms would provide much needed humidity in the dry wintry air. And I remember Mrs. Von Péchy telling us we should always sleep with the window just slightly open for fresh air.
It’s so strange that a person can recall such a trivial memory about keeping your bedroom window slightly open but has completely forgotten what probably more important events were. Our memories are like that although sometimes a smell or taste or sight can trigger a memory that has lain dormant for years and years. Diesel fumes for example trigger memories of my father working at the city bus garage and the smell of hay evokes memories of the Quonset building near downtown Logan that sold cow and chicken feed and hay and straw. It was always a pleasure to pass by the front of the building and smell such pleasant smells coming from within.
The Dingess Boys
How old was I when Lanny and Ronnie Dingess entered my life? Twelve, thirteen? I cannot recall with certainty but I am certain that Lanny and Ronnie, as boyhood friends, did exert a tremendous influence in my life.
Ronnie Dingess was about a year older than his brother Lanny and me, small for his age but somehow wiser than his years. He had a sharp mind in that he was able to figure out mechanical things and an innate sense of what a problem was and what it would take to eliminate it. A consummate cigarette smoker, just about any time you saw him, Ronnie would have a cigarette dangling from his lips. As children, we’d all been told that smoking would stunt our growth. I always thought that Ronnie felt that his growth was already stunted so what would one more cigarette hurt?
So fond in my memory is the day we discovered a boat chained to a tree on a Guyandotte River bank. Ronnie found a way to get it unchained and what a grand and glorious time we had exploring the reaches of the river.
And the Dingess family was much like my own. There were five or six children as I recall. Lanny and Ronnie had a brother named Ernest. They also had three or four sisters. Jill was the oldest. Then there was Cathy and the youngest, Fonda. I recall their mother’s name Pauline, who still resides in Logan, and their father’s name, Charles or Charlie.
My closest childhood friend was Ronnie’s brother Lanny. Although I had natural brothers in abundance, Lanny was more brother than friend. We shared everything together–all our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams. If it could be thought of and done, I could always count on Lanny’s help to get it accomplished.
Lanny was a tried and true friend who embodied all things well and good. He could never tell a lie and theft was foreign to his nature. He was faithful and trustworthy to a fault. In short, Lanny Dingess was all and everything a friend could and should be. I, like most, left a lot of things behind when I left Cherry Tree, but the thing that I miss the most, even today, is his friendship. I never considered a life where Lanny was not around but Viet Nam got into full swing in the early sixties and a lot of things changed because of it. At that time, U.S. military forces utilized the draft. If a boy had turned 18, he was subject to be drafted into the Army. It was either join or be drafted unless you were in college. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1964, shortly after graduation from Logan High School. Lanny joined the U.S. Army the next year and was stationed in Great Britain. From what I understand, he married an English woman and settled in Cleveland, Ohio after his tour of duty. Sadly, I lost touch with Lanny shortly after my naval stint but I shall keep his boyhood friendship close to my heart for the rest of my life.
Hot summertime and cold watermelons just seem to go together and Fortuna’s Produce Market always seemed to have the coldest, sweetest melons. As I recall, they were 50 cents apiece and, when the fifty cent pieces were available, a small troupe of kids would make the trek across the two single-lanes, concrete bridges that separated Mount Gay from Cherry Tree and return with that prized melon. It would be cut outside by my mother and distributed all around to the kids who could then spit watermelon seeds with wild abandon.
Also in the summertime, a horse or mule drawn wagon would enter the little community and the driver would hawk the canvas-covered frozen water to the neighborhood mothers who needed the ice for the ice-boxes of the day. The chips of ice that he would hand out to the eager children who clustered around the wagon on those hot summer days were sweeter and better than any candy bar.
Folks were more friendly in the fifties and folks would sometimes make sacrifices for you and do for you what you could not do for yourself. These were the days before television. These were the days of front porches and neighbors who knew each other by name. Gone forever are those days of unlocked front doors and wide open windows and the sense of trust you had in your neighbors. And, when mentioning kindness to one another, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the name of Joe Chirico. Joe Chirico was like that. I’m sure that all the groceries that left his store to feed some of the neighborhood children were never sold at a profit. My mother at that time had a silver dollar that she would often “pawn” to Joe Chirico for a loan. Although times were hard and resources were scarce, Mom always managed somehow to redeem that silver dollar from Joe. So many times that silver dollar would grace the pot of cabbage my mother would cook for our New Year’s dinner, after which the coin would be tucked away for safekeeping. It was a custom my mother said that would assure a family would always have good luck, and money, that New Year.
I remember Bob Piros owning a ’56 Chevy during our high school days. It was a quiet, clean car, dignified, as was Bob himself. Sometimes we’d ride home together after school, rather than ride the school bus.
Much of my memories have depended on the recollections of Bob, who seems to recall much more than I about our childhood days.
There was a set of twins in the neighborhood, David and Dale Scott –brothers and twins at that but completely different in their personalities. David seemed to be more outgoing than Dale who was more withdrawn than his nearly identical brother.
Adjoining Joe Chirico’s grocery was a small beer joint owned at that time by Wilson and Carrie Gallion. Wilson was a crack shot with a .45 service pistol as I remember and sometimes would regale us with tales from his exploits during World War II. His son Gordon and I were friends during the time that the family lived in Cherry Tree. Gordon was a fun-loving sort of fellow who played drums in the junior high school band. From what I understand, Gordon lives in Ranger, West Virginia. Gordon also had a brother named Ronnie and a sister whose name I believe was Sue.
Sheila Dingess, lived across the street from Joe Chirico’s store. Although she was called a tomboy by the neighborhood children, I can’t remember Sheila being much involved in our activities. Perhaps she was tagged with that reputation because of the blue-jeans she wore with the rolled-up cuff. In my mind’s eye I see her peddling her bicycle down the street with her long pony tail streaming out behind her. There were a lot of Dingess families in the Logan area but Sheila was not related to Lanny Dingess that I am aware of.
Lana Gore, who later became a good friend of my sister Elsie, lived across the first swinging bridge that connected Cherry Tree to White’s Addition. Lana was a pretty girl and every time she crossed that bridge, whether coming or going, my friend Kenneth Johnson would whistle at her. I can still recall her face flushing from embarrassment.
Kenneth Johnson was just about the same age as me. He had some older brothers and sisters. Jack, the oldest, suffered from a nervous breakdown and only occasionally visited his mother. Neal Johnson, another brother to Kenneth, was a little older than us.
I recall Neal climbing a big buckeye tree back on ‘the mountain’ and I also recall the sharp crack as the top of the tree broke off and the wild ride Neal had with it down to the ground. He hit with such a terrible thud, I just knew he had killed himself, but after several moments of grave concern on my part, he sat up and dusted himself off and asked me if he could borrow my comb. He and Kenneth were much alike. Both were always neat and clean with their hair always combed just so.
I have forgotten Kenneth’s oldest sister’s name but Linda was his other sister’s name. Linda was a good friend of my sister, Phyllis.
There were the Blair children — Jimmy, Nancy, Ricky and the youngest sister, Luigi. Nancy and I were childhood sweethearts; we shared our first kisses together. Their father’s name was Elmer but I don’t recall their mother’s name.
I recall the sand lot games of touch football and how quick and agile Jimmy was. Usually if you saw Neal Johnson, you would also see Jimmy Blair. And with Neal and Jimmy would be one of the most memorable characters of my life, David Cline.
David Cline was a natural comedian with a keen mind and a very sharp wit. Any time David was around, you were guaranteed a good time. He could keep you in stitches. If the jokes didn’t do it, his impersonation of Donald Duck could. I can still recall my mother’s hearty laughter at our kitchen table over David’s jokes and comments.
David had a younger brother, Billy, but I don’t recall any other brothers or sisters. Neither do I recall where David’s family originated. As with most young men in that area, David and Neal joined the U.S. Army.
Penny Rice and her sister Hattie I believe came from Chicago. Both of them were very pretty girls and, for a while anyway, I could claim Penny as my girlfriend. Alas, Penny and Hattie’s family moved back to Chicago as I recall.
Donald Pack was a friend of mine who lived in the same neighborhood. I do not recall when Donald picked up the habit of chewing tobacco but more often than not, he would have a big cud parked inside his cheek. His daddy’s name, I believe, was Ernest and his mother’s name was Rosie. Rosie, I think, was daughter to Grandma Sheppard and sister to Martha Sheppard. Martha was the first woman I can recall who drove a truck, which was unusual in that day and time. Martha had a brother named Harrison and another brother named Frank and, if I am not mistaken, she either had a brother named Cecil or was married to a Cecil. Unfortunately, I do not recall Cecil’s last name, be it Sheppard or otherwise.
If I am not badly mistaken, my Aunt Florence’s maiden name was Sheppard. Aunt Florence was married to my uncle Ernest.
Donald Pack was sort of a jolly fellow and when and how we lost contact with each other I do not recall. Someone, perhaps my mother, told me that Donald had moved to Toledo, Ohio, lived there for several years and passed away somewhat early in life.
No doubt there were other children in that small neighborhood whom I have forgotten to mention. And also, this was only a part of Cherry Tree. The lower section that was situated to the south of the bakery has not been mentioned with the same frequency because, with the exception of Robert Piros, I never really knew those children well.
However, I do recall the Nagy boys, David and Shawn and I remember Donald Pack. I also recall Mike Ratz whose Dad owned a bearing and alignment shop where my uncle “Dude” worked. There was a younger boy named Billy Booth (?) There was Carolyn Tiller, whose father, Dink, was the local sheriff’s deputy.
Although not a youngster by any means, one of the more colorful characters in that end of Cherry Tree was Roscoe Long. If anything at all was happening in the neighborhood, Roscoe could tell you. Most of Roscoe’s time was spent out on his porch where he could watch the comings and goings of his neighbors. Roscoe’s daughter’s name was Barbara who married a man name Opie.
And then there was Mr. Porter, an older, heavy-set man who resided in an apartment above Mr. Nagy’s garage. Mr. Porter (I never knew his first name) was fond of sitting on the porch attached to his apartment and who, like Roscoe, observed his neighbors activities with interest.
Jerry Johnson (no kin to Kenneth) was a good friend of mine. Jerry and I joined the Navy together in 1964. Jerry’s mother and grandfather, from overseas somewhere, Czechoslovakia I believe, kept a tight rein on Jerry although not tight enough to keep him from sustaining a broken arm when he yelled “Geronimo!!” and lost his grip on the cable swing back in “the mountain”. When Jerry discovered a way to get into the RC storage building next to his home, he and I enjoyed our share of soft drinks, compliments of RC bottling.
As I mentioned, Jerry and I enlisted in the Navy together, supposedly under the buddy system, but after boot camp Jerry went one way and I went the other. I do not know for sure what became of Jerry. It seems that I recall my mom telling me that Jerry did some sort of secret work for the government and afterwards relocated to Baltimore, Maryland.
There was Jerry Greene and his brother Danny. Tragically, Danny was one of the first Viet Nam casualties from our small part of the world.
I suppose that my family was the largest family in Cherry Tree. My mother bore eight children and, with the exception of the oldest, Phyllis, all were born in Logan, West Virginia.
My daddy’s name was William Ples Dyer, Jr. and Mom’s name was Mae. There were several aunts and uncles spread out around the Logan area. My uncles were Anthony (Doc) and Ernest Dyer. Cousin Barbara, daughter to Doc, still resides there. My mother’s brothers were Robert (Bob) and Dude Jenkins. Dude had no children but Bob had a son, Robert Jr. who still lives in Logan.
Mom and Dad must have been quite young when they settled in Logan or, more specifically, Cherry Tree. The oldest child, Phyllis was born in Freeburn, Kentucky. Phyllis, or Sis, is four years older than I and I, myself, was born in Logan General Hospital in April of ’46. Next came my sister Elsie and then Roger, David, Danny, Sharon and Eddie. Sis, I and Elsie spent all of our childhood in Cherry Tree and graduated from Logan High School.
Mom and Dad relocated to Toledo, Ohio when the youngest child, Eddie, was still a toddler. After spending several years in Toledo, they removed to Abilene, Texas where my brother, Roger Dean, still resides. My younger brother, David, chose to remain in Toledo and is still a resident of that area.
Mom and Dad passed away while in Abilene and are buried there. My younger brother Danny Joe (named for Joe Chirico) also succumbed in Abilene and is buried there. My younger sister Sharon passed away in 2003, and her husband, John, acceded to her wishes and scattered her ashes in Oregon.
The recollections that I have noted here are memories that time is sometimes not kind to. There are other lives I am sure that have touched mine, but I have forgotten them after this half century of life.
When I left Cherry Tree to join the U.S. Navy, it had already changed much due to the road construction in the area; my last visit revealed a Cherry Tree that was alien to me, a place that I still call “home” but only because of memories of what once were part of my life.