September 14th, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader

September 14, 2006
Story by Amy Wilson

Photographs by David Stephenson

ORDINARY — It is hard to know when you are out of the Ordinary city limits. Dian Huff lives just a quarter-mile past the stone building that looks for all the world like the Alamo if you didn’t know the Alamo from all those John Wayne movies. She says the stone building is in Dewdrop.

She calls her aunt Ardith Caudill on the phone. Ardith, who has lived on the Rowan-Elliott county line for nigh upon 70 years, now says no, she has never heard of Ordinary. And are these people pulling her leg?

You might want to ask the Johnsons, who live up on the left. They own the pink-mortared, honeysuckle-covered stone building. See how, if you look hard, you can see the building was once the H.H. Johnson _____ Store (there’s something missing in broken glass).

The curious stop to look in the broken window. Old shelves holding old books. Old table holding old cigar boxes. A large round heating stove in the big middle. A cordoned-off Postal Service area in the rear of the store that looks as if it might topple in a slight breeze.

It is a warm September morning and there is no breeze to even rustle the honeysuckle.

Off to the Johnsons, where Janet, the daughter, and Hazel, the mother, know about Ordinary. It is where the store is and, give or take, maybe back that way toward the county line. Hazel, now 93, came here in — oh, let her check her Bible — 1939, when she married Ova, son of Houston, the H.H. in the store name.

H.H. was postmaster and storekeep from the 1930s until 1955, when Ova took over, but he stopped being postmaster in 1958, when there seemed to be no good reason to have a post office at the store anymore.

Janet remembers the store. As a small child, she’d come in the front door. In front of her, the big wood-burning stove around which her grandfather — and any man who’d caught a ride on the mail truck — would sit in the winter, leaning back in the cane-bottom chairs made by the blind man who lived down the way, and spit tobacco directly onto the pot-belly cast iron. She can still smell the tobacco as it hit the blazing metal, and she can still hear the sizzle.

On the little girl’s left would be the chocolate drops, the orange slices and the penny cookies, loose in the box. On her right, the countertop held bolts of fabric. The notions — thread, thimbles, lace — were within easy reach. The feed sacks, which people used for fabric, sometimes were behind the door. On the wall on the right were shelves of shoes.

Janet eyed the penny loafers.

“My grandfather, who was not the most generous man in the world, gave them to me when I went into the first grade,” Janet says.

She did not get to wear them long. A month later, she contracted polio. Three months after that, they’d have a vaccine — too late for the little girl lying up in Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington, which allowed two hours of visitation from her parents every Sunday.

Otherwise, she grew accustomed to not moving her legs and wondering when she’d be back to the usual in Ordinary, hearing tobacco sizzle at PawPaw’s store.

She came home that Christmas Eve and wore braces until she was 16. Now, past 50, she wears braces again. Her mama, Hazel, sits across the room and spends most of the day reading her Bible. She is on her 122nd time through it, having made note of every time she starts again with Genesis 1. The first time she tried this extraordinary task, it was 1968.

(Her favorite verse? Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”)

Since 1986, she has set to memorizing all 150 Psalms and the Song of Solomon.

Now, she can recite only a few.


“One and 8 and 15 and 19 and 21 and 23 and 27 and 34 and 42 and 46 and 51 and 60 and 63 and 100 and 117 and 121 and 126 and 150,” she says.

Hazel taught elementary school for 40 years and believes strongly in reading — and even stronger in God. She said she liked raising her two girls in Ordinary because she could raise them in Christian ways.

“That’s a mother’s point of view, keep in mind,” Janet says. “And there wasn’t that much in Ordinary to get into. You had to go 14, 15 miles to get to a movie.”

Janet calls her sister, Sue, on the phone and they try to imagine where in the family home there might be some Ordinary artifacts. Rummaging of the basement ensues. The post office sign and the store’s grain scales appear to reaffirm the truth of Ordinary.

Outside the Johnsons’ window is Ky. 32. The beauty that is Ordinary is being hauled out on red lumber trucks.

There was a promise a while back that the old store might be brought back to its Ordinary splendor, but the funding for that seems to have fallen through some crack in Frankfort.

Ordinary reasons given but a lot lost in the process.

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