Venerable Abe

Abe Venerable

Abe Venerable

Abe outside the cafe/bakery in town.  Notice the Bible (Abe couldn’t read), and he is dressed up for church.  The bakery is open, and usually nothing was open on Sunday in those days.  It was customary in those times for farmers to come to town on Saturdays for socializing, bringing families, and spending the whole day.  Sundays were strictly church days, and stores were not usually not open for business. So Abe must be on his way to Adventist Church where he was a regular. Abe also attended church on Sundays.  In fact, Abe would not miss anything social that might come along.

Abe also is wearing his best hat and tie.  In Abe’s right pocket is the sack that usually held candy for the kids.  One of Abe’s chief delights was passing out candy to kids.  I remember that if Abe had on a coat, then he almost always had candy with him in a pocket.  If he didn’t have on a coat, then the candy would be “hard tack.”  If we went by his little house, we could be assured that he would have candy there.  Ruby Creps told me that he gave her German Chocolate of a kind that she never saw anywhere else.  I don’t remember that chocolate, but he usually gave me lemon drops whenever I went by his little house (they keep well in a pocket).

The sack in his right hand looks like a bakery sack, and must be filled with the donuts he was fond of buying.

Abe always favored striped pants (for dress up).  I remember the little gold pin that he wore on his lapel, but cannot remember what it represented.  Notice the reflection in the bakery window of the Creasey Building across the street.  This cafe/bakery was on the east side of Main street next to the Gro­ceteria. I don’t know who is standing behind the screen door, but it probably was the proprietor, as he has on an apron like the baker used to wear.  This store was our barbershop in my day (30s 40s).

This time period seems to be 1920-1930 (and in the summer time) because the window reflection also shows power poles and trees across the street alongside and next to the Creasey Building; and it also shows the awning down on the front of Creaseys.

Note the flyer in the window says: Ritz, Sun, Mon, Tues, Comic, HIGHBROW.  Definitely a 20s style production, probably to be held in the Pioneer Hall upstairs.

Indications, such as the cement sidewalk, would place the photo after 1920 – when Hwy 30 was paved and main street paved, and they put in cement sidewalks.  At this time, EP Day’s real estate office should be the next door facing this door in the door set-back.   Notice the flooring in the cafe/bakery.  All the stores at that time used floors made of oak tongue and groove lumber.  This flooring, while long lasting, was always noisy.

Peacocks Bar was the gathering place in town at night.  Idaho had a law allowing slot machines – but only nickel and only in the back room, and other restrictions so that I never laid eyes on one in Idaho my entire life (excepting one time by accident in Peacocks).

Abe Venerable was an every night fixture in the bar. He worked bar for Peacock.

Abe was an institution.  He had come west when a Chicago family he was attached to, that made their living as coal merchants, came west. Abe’s folks had been slaves, never married, and freed, they made their way west.  Sometime later in Tennessee they separated, mother went to New Orleans, and dad went to St Louis. Abandoned, Abe was on his own, he was nine.  Abe never knew his birthday or how old he was. So he would just pick a day that year and claim it was his birthday.  At least this was the story told to me and friends.

He made his way to Chicago and worked for the Robinsons in the coal business.  It was commonplace in those times for boys (orphaned or runaways) to find a ranch or business and work for room and board. My own Ggrandfather did that at age 7 (1847).

Like many businesses in those days, hard times came and the Robinson’s coal business folded. So they decided to move to New Plymouth, apparently having heard about it.  They packed up a wagon with whatever gear they had, and sent Abe ahead with it to Idaho. They arrived first on a train to obtain a site for their coal yard.  Settling in New Plymouth, they again went into the coal business setting up shop back behind Creaseys feed store.

Abe built himself a little shack, out of odds and ends, out in the coal yard behind some stores and where most folks tied their teams when in town.  I was in Abe’s little shack many times. It was about 7′ x 10′. Room for an army type cot along one wall, a little stove, a chair and 2′ x 2′ table.  He could sit on his bed and eat out of a pan on the stove.

Us kids, when walking home from school, would often cut thru the coal yard (it is long gone now) and if Abe were home we would visit. Abe was always good for stories. And, he always had hard tack candy in his pocket. When the coal yard was disbanded years later, the city dragged Abe’s little cabin over across the street by our water tower and jail on that tiny city property.  I do not see it now on Google so the city must have disposed of it when he died in 1958.

Abe’s strategy for existing in our community was to get the kids on his side when young. Then when they grew up they would be friends.  His greatest fear seemed to be if babies cried when they saw him – which they would.  He would get very agitated and do most anything to placate the baby and mother. Therefore the hardtack candy – readily available anytime he saw a kid.

Abe would work at odd jobs only enough to satisfy his basic needs. He could have had all the work he wanted and could have done as well financially as any of us. But he wouldn’t. And, to stay at that economic level was non threatening to the community.

Abe Venerable Raking Leaves

Abe Venerable Raking Leaves on Fitzsimons’ lot

Abe worked for everyone in town at one time or another, and most of us out of town.  Everyone knew him. Most all the town’s folk at that time had backyard gardens – a prime Abe “job site.” Some of this was barter work for veggies – so he always had grub. There were many orchards that he could pick fruit in. There was never a shortage of work for him.

Abe would come stay at our house whenever we had to be away from home. He would milk our cows and feed the stock. Stayed in our house, ate our food, and slept in our bed. Occasionally when working for us, Abe would eat with us at the table – a very memorable occasion because Abe had no teeth (and no dentures) and you did not want to be closer than three feet!  To us kids he was a wonder!

To us kids he was fabulous – like I said, always good for a story and candy, like nobody else we knew.  Abe’s stories were always varying.  So, on purpose us kids would ask him in some different way, just to see if the story (which we usually had already heard) was changed yet again!  A sure fire story would be provoked by asking him how old he was.  He was quite creative in answering.  The years I knew him, and sometimes worked with him, was 1935-1945 when he would have been 67-77, but you could not tell how old he was.

I never remember hearing him say where he got the name Venerable, nor would he tell us what his folks’ names were or where he was born –  if he knew.  His stories always went only back to where they came west and went their separate ways.

When Abe would stay at our place to take care of our stock; when we got back, he would have done all sorts of things that were his “extras.” Like patching a hole in a screen door, or filling a pot hole in the driveway, or weeding the garden. The patching was always kind of “make-do,” he had never learned the how of repairs. But, Abe always went the extra mile.  Abe was “good people” to our community.

Abe never went to school so could not read nor write – but that did not keep him from carrying a Bible.  He loved church and on Saturdays he went to Seventh-Day Adventist Church and on Sundays to the Baptist Church. Abe went to and was welcome at any and every social event in town.  He was not shy at all, stopping to say a word, or tipping his hat – always a gentleman.

Abe loved to frequent the bar where he worked and where anyone wanting his labor could find him.  But because of his self imposed poverty, he never had much money for beer. But the townspeople would buy him beer on purpose to see him “in is cups.” The bars in those days all had nickel slots in the back room.  Abe dearly loved those slots.  Tending bar for Peacock he would carry beer, etc., to serve patrons at the tables in the back room where they could play cards. Bar patrons would give him a nickel to put in the slots and when nothing happened and he turned away, then they would contrive, behind his back, to throw a handful of nickels into the slot machine tray to see how excited Abe would get. He would dance a jig – it made his day! Noble and Shirley Peacock ran the Peacock Bar and were good friends to Abe.  When he died they took up a collection and paid for his funeral and tombstone.  He is buried in Parkview Cemetery.

Abe had found a home in New Plymouth, and lived out his life there as one of the most respected gentlemen in town.

Abe was the only black man I ever saw until I went into the military. I was eventually transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi, to the electronics school there in 1953. The civil rights campaigns had not started yet – would not for over a decade.  One time I was in town and cut through the bus depot. Unwittingly I had entered the back room that was reserved for blacks.  I was very startled!  I had never been impacted by anything like that, seeing people designated to ride in the back of buses or have their own waiting room in those days.

Abe Venerable's House

Abe Venerable’s House

Abe’s House

Notice two horse shoes nailed over the screen door. One over the other.  Abe claimed that brought more than just luck, it was “black boogety luck!

One of the two windows (usually open during warm weather) has something besides glass in it.

He has moved his stove outside because it would heat up the house too much for the time of year – he has the warming oven that usually stands up bookcase style on the back of the stove laying down on the stove top.

Notice the boards he has laid down to cover up the mud.  That lot could turn into a sea of mud!  Placement of the buildings on this lot had more to do with where inevitable mudholes would form, so they would chose higher spots, of course.

The chair around the side of the house was usually where the stove is now and he would sit in it leaned back against the house.

The poles and stumps by the side were wood to be cut up for stove wood or as skids to move his house.

Abe’s house had skids under it to allow it to be pulled by a team to another location.  This area had no real drain, except there was a drain ditch across the back of this lot (south to north).  During long rainy periods sometimes huge puddles or very deep mud made using any of it a problem.  Simply hitching a team to his little house it could be dragged to a better spot.  It never had electricity.  His outhouse was to use the public ones behind the stores.

The house behind his house also has an improvised boardwalk.  Perhaps that was the Robinson’s house?  Note off to the side is another building, what looks like a chicken coop with the upper roof setback for light.

Abe worked for the Robinsons in their coal yard for some years after coming with them to New Plymouth in 1913. This picture was probably taken after 1920.


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