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Nora Swango Stanger: Appreciating the simple beauties of Ironton

As a child, we only went to town once a month and what an adventure it was!

In good weather, Mom let us play on the courthouse lawn while she ran her errands.

The courthouse was a type of castle in my little girl mind. Inside it had the most impressive staircase I had ever seen. The staircase was centered in the middle of the great hall when you first entered and was made of cool-to-the-bare-feet marble.

Serious, sometimes stern-looking people walked up and down those stairs, carrying what must have been very important papers.

The women’s bathroom was huge and had an area where old ladies sat to rest before continuing their town business.

When the weather was hot, a large window was kept open to let in the breeze. When we waited a bit too long to go to the bathroom, we would crawl through the window instead of taking the long walk through the massive building.

Outside, I remember the large old cannons from world wars past that were displayed during those days. We climbed over, under and around the cannons. We pretended we were army soldiers fighting Nazis and rescuing the civilians.

In the summer, we went most everywhere barefoot and I can still feel the soft coolness of the perfectly manicured courthouse lawn.

We made a game of walking the complete circumference of the grounds on the short wall that surrounds the site. Sometimes, we would simply lie in the grass, watching the clouds above and seeing who could find the most character shapes there.

Old men would sit on the benches smoking, chewing, spitting and talking of the good ole days or the condition of the tobacco crops that year.

My grandfather was sick most of the time in my memory, but I remember, when I was very young, he would put on his best overalls and a blue chambray shirt to dress up for the occasion.

When my siblings and I got bored, we’d wander down to Kresge’s dime store and look at the odds and ends there. They had a soda fountain with high stools that would spin if you pushed yourself from the counter.

Kresge’s was a forerunner of Kmart. You could find all kinds of odds and ends there.

By my way of thinking, Kresge’s was for poor people and that’s why we always shopped there.

J.C. Penney’s was for the rich people.

Penny’s was housed on 3rd Street and it too had an impressive staircase. The lower floor held the prettiest clothing, but with the biggest price tags so our job was to simply admire.

Up the beautiful staircase held the housewares, towels that were thick as quilts and fancy kitchen items that I couldn’t imagine what they were used for.

Often, when Mom did her grocery shopping, we kids had to wait in the car. She said we begged too much for junk food and she had to make her money stretch as far as she could. (Mom always had a hard time saying ‘no’ to us if we begged hard enough.)

I remember playing games in the car thinking that she would never be finished.

Sometimes, as Mom drove up Park Avenue, headed home on State Route 93, she would stop at a little ice cream shop at the edge of Ironton.

It was a tiny building with a walkup window. You could get soft-serve ice cream that was stacked high with winding curls. I think ice cream tasted best on those days.

Ironton was a winter wonderland during the Christmas season. There were window decorations with motorized elves and depictions of Santa’s workshop. Street lights were decorated in red and green.

But it was J.C. Penney’s that held the most anticipated surprise.

Upstairs, behind all the curtains, towels and rugs was a small room that became Santa’s toy room! It was filled from floor to ceiling with the most tantalizing toys.

In the middle of the room, more childhood delights were displayed making the aisles very narrow.

Since we had already received the Penney’s Wish Book catalog days before, we knew which toys our hearts were most drawn to. We spent ages in that room, just staring at the toys and imagining what we would do with them if we were so blessed to get them.

As a child I thought Ironton was a big town.

I often wondered about the adventures you could get into if you lived there.

I left home when I was 17 and, though I visit Aaron’s Creek several times a year and still call it home, I wasn’t around when all the changes happened: when the ice cream shop was torn down to build a medical facility and when J.C. Penney’s became a city government building.

In my mind, Ironton will always be full of little girl sweet and innocent memories.

I truly pray the residents of Ironton and Lawrence County will see the treasure they still have in this little town.

I pray that other little girls will get to play on the courthouse lawn and feel the soft grass under their bare feet.

These are the things that make life rich.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.