WICKLIFFE TO COLUMBUS
We woke up early but not as early as a few kids we heard outside our trailer,
already up riding bikes through the park, running around playing in the cool morning air. The air wasn’t cool for long, but we tried to take advantage as best we could, so we launched back to Wickliffe, Kentucky in order to cover the miles to Columbus on bike. As we got to the mounds, where we would begin our trek, we looked off in the distance toward Cairo and contemplated whether we might should retrieve those lost miles over the bridge. We didn’t give it a second thought—we were driving back over the bridge into Illinois, unloading the bike, turning on the hazards, looking for the best gap in traffic ready to launch up over the narrow span crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky. A mile and a half later, we had made it to the other side safely enough, now with every mile, foot, inch accounted for once again. From there, Tom took off from the Wickliffe Mounds, heading toward Columbus. I got ahead of him down the road and we made an exchange. I rode into the park without event just in time to recover and make it to our first appointment with Cindy Lynch, Park Manager of Columbus-Belmont State Park.
As we walked up to the main park building, Lee greeted us and took us in to see Cindy. We waited a bit while she was on the phone, settling into the waiting area that almost felt like a doctor’s office instead of a State Park. Soon enough, though, Cindy joined us, full of smiles and enthusiastic greetings. We learned that she has actually been involved with the park all her life, working there since 1976 and essentially growing up there because her grandfather was a former Park Manager. Apparently there are pictures of Cindy in a baby stroller in the park, she has been around so long!
Cindy didn’t take after her grandfather right away. In fact, she wanted to be a stewardess or a model, but she was afraid of flying and she was too short for modeling! She did move to St. Louis for a couple of years, but eventually the family came back to Columbus and she started working at the park—it seems it couldn’t be helped. She apprenticed her way to the top, and has now been a manager for 24 years.
Much of the work at the park involves the Civil War re-enactments (or living histories) that they stage and the large crowds that gather in October for those events. Also in October is the Unboolievable Weekend for Halloween. She says they have a large volume of campers, both regional regulars and snow birds moving north to south along the river. The park is thriving for such a small park, and she encouraged us to see the museum and the overlook as well as check out the snack bar because the food is so good. Cindy is very proud of her park. Unfortunately, we only had a short time and had to break away, but with hopes of returning for a tour later.
Tom and I drove from Columbus into Clinton to meet with Norma for lunch at the Behive Cafe. As we stepped out the van, we saw she and her husband Greg walking in to the restaurant—what a surprise! We sat down together for a nice lunch, this time turning off the recorder and just getting to know one another as friends and hosts/travelers. Tom had another round of BBQ and I had a cheeseburger, but Norma ordered the BBQ baked potato—another culinary first for us! Stack that one up with the BBQ nachos, and we haven’t even hit Memphis yet!
After lunch, Norma brought us over to meet Ladonna Latham at the Hickman County Historical & Genealogical Society. Ladonna was born and raised in Clinton—actually she was born in the bottoms and lived in the bottom. Her family would go fishing and squirrel hunting in the bottom, and sometimes she would just sit and look at the bottom because she found it so peaceful and calming. Ladonna and her both got into family genealogy which involved them taking trips to Georgia, both Carolinas, Mississippi and Tennessee to uncover family lineage. She helped to organize the Genealogy society in 1983, with it then having 36 or so charter members. In 2013 their building collapsed and they lost about 50% of their memorabilia but only 10% of their written records. Thankfully, someone came to the rescue and put things back right, and they now have a new building and are slowly reacquiring the technology they lost. Ladonna writes books about history to fundraise for the society—eight in total, and the most recent was about Country Stores.
The society does a lot of programming with the schools, engaging English teachers to get the students to write about history. While they seem to still be struggling to accrue a good representation of the African American genealogy from the area, they are working to increase the amount of Chickasaw history and genealogy that they cover. Regardless, thanks to the work of LaDonna and others, the resources of the Genealogy society are well beyond Ancestry.com or even what you’ll find with your DNA records on 23 and Me—as long as you come prepared with a bit of information to start.
Leaving Clinton, and headed back to Columbus, we knew exactly where we were headed—Beards & Roses General Store, LLC, the general store and restaurant just outside the state park where we’d been staying. Robb Wallace, owner and operator, was there to greet us as we walked in the door, so we all took a seat at one of the donated* tables and chairs (*see later explanation) and started to get to know one another. Robb’s gramdma was born in Hickman County, and his wife Rose’s family and relatives are from there as well. However, Robb himself was born in Michigan and has lived several places including Las Vegas before settling down in Hickman County, Kentucky in order to marry Rose. According to Robb, he moved here to get away from the “city and hustle and bustle” and has been here ever since for 22 years. He worked in ham processing for a number of years, and then the plant burned down, so then he went to work for Remington Arms for a number of years, until the plant moved. Finally he decided he didn’t want to work for anyone anymore.
While working through the logistics of such a decision, he kept passing this vacant building in Columbus where everyone kept saying they needed a store, and he started getting ideas in his head. About the same time Norma was working on bringing Dollar General to that very location. But when she heard that Robb was working on buying it, she backed off. Local is better.
(It’s at this point in the conversation that Rose joins us, arriving at the store late.)
Rose worked at a pharmacy in Clinton until recently when she came on at the store full time. They opened the store in 2017—it’s been open two and a half years now, and they are thinking about adding unleaded fuel to start, eventually diesel, propane and recreational fuel. They are also working on an plan to offer food delivery across the river via the Hickman Ferry. Right now they are debt free, sometimes just making it, other months doing a bit better. Word of mouth is really what helps their business. The care they take in the homemade pizza, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and cakes. They stock on demand, like hydraulic fluid—they adjust their inventory to meet the demand of the locals. Both Robb and Rose spend a lot of hours in the store, and they say it seems like it always gets busy when one of them leaves.
While we sat and talked, Rose got up and grabbed some samples of ice cream from the back—something new she’d just thought up: watermelon and cantaloupe. It was perfectly balanced, not too sweet. Although not quite set yet, I loved the slushiness! It seems Rose and Robb make everything from scratch in their kitchen and bring a little of themselves to each dish, including the pizza dough recipe that Robb discovered by mistake, and the cookies that don’t stay on the shelf for longer than five minutes. If Rose has extra cake batter from a wedding cake, she’ll use it to make cupcakes because she knows they will sell in an instant!
Now, because you weren’t there with us, and this is not a documentary, you may not be clued in to why Robb and Rose’s store is called Beards and Roses. Well, perhaps you thought, as did I, that the Roses part came from Rose’s name, but you would be part right and part wrong, as she would share with us. You see when Robb and Rose got engaged, and were “fixin’ to get married” they didn’t have a lot of money. Despite that, Rose still dreamed of having a wedding flush with fresh flowers—not just any flowers, roses, a wedding full of roses like her name.
Quick interruption here. As this story was getting started, Robb kept saying he needed Rose to get up and get a tissue for him. She did get up but forgot the tissue…. Then, as the story got started, and Rose became emotional, the request started to make sense. Robb tore off a paper towel-cum-napkin from the table and offered it to her as her eyes welled up, and everyone around the table gave knowing glances about the previous tissue request.
Now, back to the story. Not long before the wedding day, Robb and Rose were driving from town and decided to pull over and pray. Even with the praying, Rose had decided that fake flowers or no flowers would be ok; it was in the hands of the Lord Shortly thereafter, a friend from Texas called and said was unable to make it to the wedding, but she wanted to do something to make it up to them. She lived just a few miles from a florist and wanted to send flowers for the wedding—what did Rose want?! Pause for stunned silence. The first of many…
The friend was going to have the florist send samples for Rose to choose from—Rose thinking she would receive a few flowers to look at. Instead the samples ended up being 3 boxes of 25 roses each, each box containing a different color or variation. This was obviously a mistake by the florist, but they didn’t learn that until much later. At this point, the friend reconnected with Rose and just asked which she liked—again, none the wiser to the mistake. Rose didn’t know how to explain and just said that she had all she needed! The friend insisted that she needed five colors for the perfect bouquet, and proceeded to basically pick out the colors and make it all happen for Rose to receive more flowers. A few days later, Rose received five more boxes of 25 roses each of different colors! Now she was of course able to make the perfect bouquet, but also decorate the entire wedding and reception with these new flowers AND the old flowers!
When times are tough, they tell each other to remember the roses.
Oh, and the beards part of the name??? Well, Robb does have quite a significant beard, but you might object and say that’s just beard in the singular. His explanation of beards in plural, then, involves the fact that he was once slated to play the child Jesus in a Church play and so had to shave off his beard. However, when it came time to shed the facial signature, he deftly cut it away from his face at an angle and had braided the length of it in tact, so now it hangs from a string and can be attached as a secondary beard to any clean shaven face! Thus, more than one beard is kept in the Wallace family! Beards and Roses was born.
Before leaving this very special couple, I had to put in an order for their homemade pizza and famous cinnamon roll to be picked up after the next and final appointment that Norma had in store for me this day. We would pick it up on the way back to the park, but in the meantime while cooking commenced, Norma and I headed out to meet Gene and Freda Bolin at the Indian Camp Campground LLC. Gene and Freda own a house in town, but they basically live at the campground on the weekends during the season. They bought the land some time ago, seeing an opportunity open up when the ATV trails in the area were starting to develop. Beyond camping as a hobby, Gene is a captain in Civil War re-enactments, and he has traveled extensively performing in re-staged battles from the Civil War, including Gettysburg with tens of thousands of men. He’s involved in the educational days leading up to the re-enactments as well, and says he speaks to questions of why is he doing this as himself, Gene, the re-enactor, instead of trying to assign a rationale to the character he is impersonating.
When we left the campground, I suppose I had some renewed questions from my time growing up in the south about how history authorizes not just a past but a present, but I’ll save those for another day. It’s very possible that whatever the facts may be, the stories we live by will prevail. Hopefully, we can begin to listen to each other’s story, and feel for the struggles we’ve each been through.