The Attempted Robbery
In 1903 my grandfather, Joseph Hampton Gregory, was age 42, and after years of toil, he finally achieved enough success to purchase a bit of land. He bought a 165 acre Kentucky rock farm and built a beautiful, classic country home for his family. He named the farm Sunnyview. My father was six months old when the family moved to that farm, with his two older sisters, Irene, age 11, and Eva Lee, age 8. My father and his sisters grew up there. Their parents had previously given each of the girls a nearby farm of their own when they married, and my father inherited the original farm after their parents' deaths.
In 1926, my father, then age 23, built a small country general store at Sunnyview, from which he sold packaged goods, soft drinks, prepared soups, and gasoline. That farm and the general store remained in the family for another forty years, and numerous family tales and legends grew up around it.
My father’s sister had a son who married a lovely lady the family well liked. This very nice lady had a sister whom unfortunately, in the parlance of the day, “got in trouble” and bore an out-of-wedlock son at a very young age. Some who told the story said she was raped, some said she was not and I do not think anyone really knows who the child's sire was.
The young mother was a mere child herself, was in no position to raise a child, and just possibly did not know who the father was herself in any case. If she did, as far as I know, no one in the family ever learned it. The parents of these siblings, the child’s grandparents, adopted and raised him as their own.
Sometimes a child just seems to be star-crossed. Sadly, whether due to the unfortunate circumstances of his birth, the poor genetics of his sire, inadequate parenting by the grandparents, or just the luck of the roulette wheel of life, this child became, as folks of that era might have said, a shiftless ne’er do well, who was chief suspect in numerous small store gas station robberies in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio communities. He had supposedly avoided actual capture and prosecution for these crimes by dint of moving frequently. In the early 1950s he moved from Ohio back to the hometown area and was living with his adoptive mother, not very far from Sunnyview in the time of this story.
My Mother was running the country store alone with the eager assistance of her firstborn (me!) who was still a toddler at about age two to three, while my father was eight miles away running the other family business, the pool hall in town. Mother usually closed the store just before sundown and then carrying the day’s receipts and with her child, walked up the hill to the house.
One evening just as it was getting well dark, she had just set the day’s small income on the kitchen table, and was stirring up the old wood-burning kitchen stove in preparation for cooking dinner for her little family. Suddenly without warning, someone was at the kitchen door, not knocking as a normal visitor would, but trying the knob and then forcing the door as if to break it in.
The window of the door clearly revealed his identity. Recognizing him, and aware of his reputation, my mother pushed her child behind her, between the stove and the wall, and picked up my father’s double-barreled shotgun. Training it on the doorway, she shouted “Come on in, and we’ll carry you out!” Seeing her through the window, shotgun in hand must have unnerved him, as he bolted and ran.
After he departed, Mother sat down, weak and shaky, relieved that she hadn’t been forced to kill someone, especially a cousin, but fearful of a future replay when she might not have a ready gun for defense.
My father arrived home shortly, and upon hearing the story reassured her that she could not have killed anyone. His assurances that the gun was not loaded somehow did not calm her. She became angry and accused my father of thinking her too stupid to have loaded the gun. That he was certain he had no shells in the house at that particular time seemed irrelevant to the discussion.
She had long thought the local one-room schoolhouse was not adequate for her child, was reluctant to trust her progeny to the rickety school bus, and its, in her view, untrustworthy driver. She had already resolved to move to town before the time came for enrollment in the first grade in any case. The near violence of an attempted robbery was the catalyst that gave her the impetus to insist upon sub-leasing the store and farm to tenants and moving to the nearby town of Flemingsburg. A few weeks later our family became the proud owners of a fine home at 318 Weddle Street, and shortly thereafter I was to be enrolled in the first grade classes at the school conveniently located just down the street, an easy walk for even a first grader.
Not very long after that move, the schoolhouse would burn down, a story related in the tale “Lyceum Burns1”.