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Tom Chaney: The Ledger of a Country Store

Of Writers And Their Books: The Ledger of a Country Store. Tom reports from family tradition and a ledger how things were in the ‘old’ days. This column first appeared 25 September 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Shadows on the Wall of The Cave

By Tom Chaney

The Ledger of a Country Store

Every now and again we are privileged to be given a raw glimpse into the past. A glimpse not marred by the lens of the historian, no matter how competent.

I am in possession of a document that gives me such a view.<

I never knew my paternal grandfather, Henry Thomas Chaney of Three Springs. He died twelve years before I was born. But I have heard the stories.

Grandfather owned a store in metropolitan Three Springs, just across the Center road from the house where he and my grandmother ‘Mammy Sue’ raised nine children to adulthood. A cousin brought me a ledger from that store which was styled "H.T. and P.F. Chaney." Every story I have heard indicates that Uncle Porter did not have an interest in the store. But who knows at this distance.

I do know that Henry Thomas (Tom) Chaney married Susan Withers early in 1888. I know that their eldest child, Aunt Ora, was born late in that year, because her younger brothers were always counting the months before her birth in October. She would grin and point out that October was ten months after January, and that was plenty of time, thank you very much.

I also am pretty certain that Grandfather got the farm across from the store the year he married. The family story, confirmed by a yellowing clipping from the Glasgow paper, has it that Tom's older brother William was feuding with a man by the name of Breeding in the community. Breeding had been told to stay out of William's apple orchard. William stepped out onto the porch to spy Breeding up in the apple tree stealing apples. With the gun he kept close to hand, William shot and killed Breeding.

As Breeding lay dying, William stepped across the road to his brother H.T.'s store, presented Grandfather with the deed to the farm, and, with a neighbor, one Mr. Hazel, came the ten miles to Horse Cave and caught the train for Texas -- never to return.

The document in my keeping is a ledger from that store for most of the year of 1899. By then Aunt Ora was eleven, three more girls had been born, another to come that year, and two sons had died in infancy. Four sons would follow beginning just over into the next century -- the last in 1910. All the children had single names -- Ora, Virgie, Nellie, Daisie, Minnie, Lee, Buford and Carl -- except for the last, Charlie Raymon, as though there was one spare name and were to be no more children. After all, enough is enough.

I open the index to the ledger and spy the name of Walter Chaney, the youngest brother of Tom and William. The story has it that the brothers, their wives, and their increasing tribe would often take Sunday dinner in one of the brother's houses. On one such Sunday the meal was at Walter's place. With at least a score of mouths to feed, the board was groaning with a variety of meats, spoon vittles, breads, and desserts. When all were seated, Walter turned to Tom and asked him, thinking of a good Baptist grace, "Tom, would you like to say something before we eat?"

Tom looked the table over with its gracious plenty of food and replied, "No, Walter, but, if you don't have more next time, I will."

Then there is "Altsheler and Co." This was the store run by the father of Joseph and John Altsheler. But the father had been dead for probably ten years, for it was upon his death that the novelist, Joseph, left Vanderbilt University for first a Louisville newspaper and in 1895 for the New York World where he gained his fame as an editor and author of serial novels. John would come to live in Horse Cave on Maple Avenue, at the edge of a large farm, later the Altsheler subdivision including the avenue which bears his name and the Square Deal Lumber Company. He was also president of the Farmer's Deposit Bank, predecessor of the Horse Cave State Bank.

One could go on down the list with names still vibrant in the three counties that meet in Three Springs -- Hart, Barren, and Metcalf. There be Nunns and Englands and Adams; Despains and Atwells and Franklins galore. And of course, there are the Chaneys and Withers.

On September 30, a Mr. Huff purchased a pair of shoes on credit for one dollar. On October 19 he paid for the shoes with a dollar's worth of molasses. A bit later he bought ninety-five cents worth of flour and was given credit of thirty-nine cents for a chicken.

The story goes that Tom kept a record of sales and payments on scraps of wrapping paper tucked into the bib pocket of his overalls. Each night he would read the charges and payments to Susan who recorded them in this ledger I have before me.

One evening he remembered he had sold a horse collar on credit. He could not recall to whom he sold the collar, but he knew who was in the store at the time. So he charged every man with a horse collar. At settlement time one customer objected. Tom took the charge off his bill. "That's fine," he remarked, "I've been paid for that horse collar nine times already."

Tom or his oldest son Lee, who got the home place after his father's death in 1925, stored the ledgers in the attic. That attic was later boarded up -- the ledgers forgot. In the 1950's Lee moved the house up the road and the ledgers came to light.

He showed them to me in the 1960's in the kitchen of the new, Bedford stone house he built where the old one stood -- just astraddle the Hart and Metcalf county line at the top of the hill on the Center road.

< BR>
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-12-28 02:17:25
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