Bycie's Store Was Always Open
In Dayhoit, Harlan County
Recollections Of A Successful
Community Grocery Store Owner
By Gary G. Simpson - 2006
I don't know where the name Bycie came from, but I can still hear the familiar shout from outside if the store were closed. "Store, Bycie! Store, Bycie!"
Bycie's given name was Millie Simpson, my grandmother, and she ran Simpson's Grocery at Dayhoit, Kentucky, for many years. She started the store in the mid-1940s and closed in the late 1960s.
Bycie was a successful community grocery store owner. Her business was established out of necessity in order to survive after her husband fell ill, having suffered a stroke while still a young man and no longer able to work. Bycie had to take in washing and ironing to keep bread on the table, but this was not a regular income or very profitable. With the help of her son, Delmer, who had joined the Army at age 16, who had sent allotment checks to her, and a loan of $300 from her father, Jim Depew, Bycie was able to start a grocery store at the end of the old Car Swinging Bridge at Dayhoit. For a while she ran the store beside Pappy Gambrel's house. In 1950 Bycie purchased the Astor Maggard house across the road and set up her new store. As luck would have it, there was already a building on the property that served as a store building separate from the house. Bycie had a large garden and also a chicken lot behind the store. She would also raise a hog or two, and I remember a cow in the backyard.
With Bycie there were no closing or opening hours. If the door were locked, all one had to do was call out to her from the road, "Store, Bycie," and she would open. There was always a need for lunchmeat, coffee, and bread, and Bycie answered the call. Her store had everything from socks to Standback, a commonly used headache powder. A dose in an RC (Royal Crown Cola) would knock your socks off.
Bycie had a big Warm Morning stove in the middle of the store. She would always have soup or soup beans simmering on the stovetop for her supper that evening. Bycie could take her big butcher knife and sharpen it razor-sharp on the hot stove and cut bologna nickel-thick, as easy as pie. Remember, this was before electric meat cutters.
Millie Simpson, known to all as "Bycie," ran the Simpson's Grocery at Dayhoit, Harlan County, Kentucky, from mid-1940s to late 1960s. She was a successful community grocery store owner and well-liked by everyone in the area.
(Photo courtesy of Gary D. Simpson.)
Bycie sold a lot of hand-dipped Hirco Ice Cream which she purchased from Happy Joe Wilder at Harlan Ice and Manufacturing. The ice cream came in five-gallon tubs. She would scrape the tubs until the paper came off to make sure she got all the ice cream she could. My brother, Del Ray, and I would get to grub out the remainder and maybe as much as a tablespoon would be left, but what a treat for us.
Granny was as tight as bark on a tree. I can remember as a young boy that Granny hired me to paint her house. My pay was $2, a bologna sandwich, and a pop. We were never allowed to eat candy or get a drink from the store, unless we paid for them. My dad, Delmer, gave us a nickel a week to get pop, ice cream, or a bar of candy.
During the long, hot summer days the kids in the neighborhood would go to the big rocks, the islands, or the pump hole to swim in the Cumberland River. Del Ray and I would come to Granny's starved after a day of fun. Granny or Aunt Net would fix us a King Cole Bologna sandwich on fresh Bunny Bread with a tomato and onion fresh from the garden.
Many great memories are in my mind of that store. Joe Blankenship, who delivered Bunny Bread, to the store became just like a family member and was a friend until he died. When Dad died in 1958, my mother, Gladys, Del Ray, and I moved to Dayhoit and then to Loyall. We lived on the corner at the red light in the Croushorn Apartments. Del Ray and I would often hitchhike back to Dayhoit and take our BB guns and later our .22 rifles with us. Our friend, Joe, would pick us up most times and transport us there safely. Hazel Tolliver, who had sons our age, would also give us a lift from time to time. If it were too early for hitching a ride, we would set out on foot and walk the entire distance.
On one occasion Ball's Service Station had been robbed and the town marshall of Loyall, Cody Long, had been informed that two boys with guns were walking towards Fourmile. We had gotten as far as the old log cabin, next to the garbage dump, when Cody pulled alongside of us and got out of his car. It scared us to death, and we knew we were in trouble because we all had a healthy fear of the law. I'll never forget what he said, "Well, it's just you old Simpson boys." Cody knew us and had often seen us hitch rides with our guns, and he knew we were alright. Cody was a great town marshall, but if he had caught me shooting carp from the Loyall bridge, I would still be in jail.
Joe Blankenship became gravely ill many years later, and I visited him in the hospital and was able to lead him to the Lord before he died and was given the honor to preside at his funeral.
Another delivery man who was like family was Paul Ellis. He delivered milk from Chappell's Dairy to Granny's store. I just knew he was the bravest man ever, because every day he would drive the big loaded milk truck over the Dayhoit swinging bridge. When his truck passed the cable support towers on each end of the bridge, the truck looked as though it would drop into the river and cause the swinging bridge to collapse. Paul kept going and delivered his milk, and when he came back to cross the bridge again, his load was lighter as he delivered to three stores in the Dayhoit community. The stores were Simpson's, Roy Hughes' (later Ray Miller), and Henry Lewis' Grocery. Paul delivered faithfully until the new bridge was constructed. Three other men I remember well and who have remained close friends were Don Ross, John Lewis, and Bill Pressnell. Don and John delivered for RC Cola. They brought a small truck as I remember, and it was always loaded with a variety of great tasting drinks such as RC Cola, lime, grape, orange, and strawberry. Don now owns Ross Auto Sales in Baxter. John retired from Mack's Grocery and sells his homemade wood crafts on the roadside. Bill is now retired and lives in Rio Vista.
Bycie's store always had interesting people stopping by. Preacher Rowe, Pete's dad, would come in and get a pop to rest and chat a while before going to the river to load coal to sell. He used a coal fork to retrieve the coal from the river and loaded it into a boat. The fork had about 12 prongs and was about 15 inches long. He could get the lumps of coal with the fork and leave sand and slack pieces. The river coal was smooth and round because the action of the river and sand formed it that way. You can still today find pieces of the round smooth coal in the Cumberland River, but it is not plentiful as in times past.
Many fond memories were connected to Bycie's store, and one event in particular happened to Del Ray and our cousin, Clyde Maggard. They claimed to have found a plug of apple tobacco in the road and thought it was candy. They proceeded to divide and eat the whole plug. You talk about two sick boys!
Clyde was one who could always make you laugh. I remember on one occasion one of the men at the store had a new Zippo lighter and was attempting to light his cigarette, but the lighter wouldn't work. Clyde quipped in a very serious manner, "You had better quit, or you're going to run the battery down." From that day Clyde was known as "Battery."
Many people were daily visitors to Bycie's store. One character we all loved was Ed Gambrel. Ed delivered the Harlan Daily Enterprise, and on collection day you could hear him call out at each house, "Paper payday, paper payday." Ed worked very hard and always raised a big garden. He also had a mill where he would grind corn. Many folks would stop by the store to find out where Ed lived and get him to grind corn or perhaps kill a hog for them. Ed kept the boys in Dayhoit on edge by scaring them with his razor-sharp Hawk Bill Knife that he always carried. He would catch one of the boys and pretend that he was going to cut their heads off, and, of course, we all knew that he wouldn't hurt anyone. He thought it was great fun. He also liked to hold one of the boys and rub his face with his day's growth of scratchy beard. Ed may have been a character, but he was a good neighbor.
Bycie had a great family heritage, but it was a subject she never mentioned. She left home and married my grandfather at the age of 12. Her grandfather was Isaac Newton Depew, a circuit rider preacher in Harlan and Clay Counties in the 1800s. Her grandmother was Milly Walker, who was the daughter of John William Walker, the recorder of deeds in Kingsport, Tennessee. He died in office in 1870.
Bycie's ancestral grandmother was the second wife of William Bradford, who was governor of Plymouth Colony. Her name was Alice Carpenter. William Bradford was the historian of the Mayflower Compact. Bycie was also related to the legendary Daniel Boone.
Near Bycie's store were three of our favorite swimming holes. One was called the Big Rocks. There were four massive rocks in the middle of the river and two of them were the ones we would dive from into at least six feet of water. We had to be careful to watch out for trotlines the fishermen used or for the broken glass where bottles were thrown into the river from the bridge above. Another favorite place to swim was called "the Island," which had two large rocks and one looked like the back of a fish or large animal. We played king of the rock until we were all exhausted. The very best swimming hole was the Pump Hole. You could wade ankle-deep water or jump out over the water from the nearby tree into a bottomless hole. Many brought their cars and drove into the shallow part and washed them. The name originated from the pump station that was used by the L&N Railroad to fill the steam engines with water. A story was told that a derailment occurred and three or four coal cars fell into the Pump Hole and were never found. Other events that happened frequently at the Pump Hole was baptizings. As a matter of fact, when I became pastor of Pine Flat Baptist Church, I was granted the privilege of baptizing in the very waters that I had played in as a child. You could only step out just a few feet from the bank, where Ewing Creek empties into the Cumberland River, and be safe. Taking another step or two and you were in over your head.
In the early 1950s when drive-ins were popular we had the Wayne Drive-In Theater across the river from the White Star School. My cousin, Mickey Miller Cox, would take some of the younger kids in the community to the steps of the school, and we would watch the cartoons before the main show began. There would be Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. We had no sound, but the view was great. One new kid who moved into our community went with us one night, and he insisted that the cartoon characters were real because he had heard them talk.
The river behind Bycie's store was a great place for all the kids to play. In the spring of 1953, when my cousin, Chester Maggard, and I were not in school, being only five and six years of age respectively, we decided to take a new refrigerator crate we found and put it in the water as a boat and go to the Island to retrieve coal as we had seen the adult men do so often. We set out behind Riverside Baptist Church and went across the river to the other side where Bycie's store was located, where the river was very shallow. We worked very hard pushing the crate up the river to the Island, but upon arriving decided the weight of the coal would sink our crate. Heading back down the river, Chester was on the more shallow side, and I was on the deeper side. Suddenly I stepped into a sinkhole and was immediately in water over my head. After going down for the third time I grabbed on to the crate and pulled myself up to keep from drowning. We were so fearful that we would get into trouble we made a pact to tell no one of our great adventure.
Years passed and another near-drowning happened at the Island. Jack Maggard had climbed out on the rock that jutted out from the bank and was throwing rocks into the river when he lost footing and fell into the water. Jack couldn't swim and the water was over his head, but, as fate would have it, my dad, Delmer Simpson, and a friend, Jess Messer, were at the Island getting sand and coal and heard his cry for help. My dad, who had a paralyzed leg from a wound received in the war, and Jess, who had a severely injured arm from a hay baling accident, disregarded their infirmities and jumped in the water and carried Jack to safety. They worked on Jack, and as water gushed forth out of his lungs he was saved from certain death.
Bycie would sit for hours in her store regaling her audience about things that had happened to her and family members. One such story she repeated many times was of her trip to Oklahoma. During the Depression, Murph, her husband, decided to take his family and look for work in Oklahoma. After traveling for days they arrived to experience a tornado. After taking shelter in an underground cellar, they came out when they knew it was safe and discovered everything destroyed or blown away. That was enough of Oklahoma, so back to Kentucky they came. She told of the trip back and the place where they camped beside the river and ate fish they had caught or wild game her son had killed. She was proud of her son, Delmer, who could kill a rabbit with a slingshot from 50 feet. The place where they camped was called Kettle Island, and in my young imagination I thought it was hundreds of miles from home. In 1969 while traveling down straight Creek in Bell County, I found myself in the town of Kettle Island. Imagine my surprise. I returned home and went straight to Granny's and asked her why she always thought that Kettle Island was a long way from home. Granny's reply, "To me, it was."
Granny was one of the first in Dayhoit to get a television. She tuned in WBIR and WATE from Knoxville, Tennessee. Even though she had a great big antenna, it was still so snowy that you could barely see the picture. We would move the antenna to different locations to try and get better reception, and, if an airplane flew over, the reception really improved for a short time. Those were the good old days. Another story that Granny told often was about her dog, Boss. Boss was part German Shepherd and he could whip any dog in the community and often did so. He would challenge any dog around and had his bluff on all of them. His fame went to his head, and one day he decided to challenge the steam engine coming down the track. Boss stood his ground, refusing to move. He thought he was going to stop the train. Big mistake. Dog gone.
Granny closed the store in the late 1960s, when the new bridge was built and the construction took her property.
Gary G. Simpson, P. O. Box 88, Loyall, KY 40854, shares this article with our readers.