HILLSBORO -When Opal Moore was born in 1918 at the top of Droop Mountain in southern Pocahontas County, the only road down to the Little Levels Valley had never been paved, and during the winter it was "just a big mud hole."
"When I was a girl, U.S. 219 wasn't there then. It was just sand across Droop Mountain. Boy, they sure built it crooked, didn't they!" she said.
Eventually, Opal made it down the crooked road to Little Levels and the town of Hillsboro. It was there she met the love of her life, William Moore, who ran his father's general store in the building where the Pretty Penny Cafe now stands.
Candy jars and fresh sliced bacon — before the Pretty Penny, there was Moore’s General Store.
"The kids used to come from school and buy chips and pop and candy bars, cookies," Opal said.
Bob McClure was one of hundreds of Hillsboro children who went to Moore's Store during his lunch hour at school.
"I bought Cokes and peanuts there as a child, and sat on the steps out front as a teenager long after it closed," McClure said. "That storefront served as one of my spots for years. I could probably write a novel about the life lessons I learned on those steps."
Opal says her husband also sold men's and women's clothing. He even had automobile parts for Model Ts. He had a slicer that would slice the bacon for people. It was real good bacon, better than what you get now. Any way you wanted it, he could slice it."
I asked Opal, "I bet it was just busy all the time for you two, with the store to run."
"It was pretty busy back a long time ago. But then after they got all the Kroger stores and Walmart and everything down in Lewisburg, there wasn't much business. After Walmart came, it wasn't long before William closed the store."
A lot of the old fixtures and display cases from inside Moore's Store were then purchased by a man who took them to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"He was going to go down there to have a West Virginia Store," Opal said. "I don't know how it turned out."
I told Opal that when I started doing these interviews along U.S. 219 and hearing about all of these old West Virginia stores, I literally thought it was a revolutionary idea-that people used to go no further than a mere block or two to buy just about everything they could want.
People have told me about dozens of little general stores like Moore's that have closed, places with potbelly stoves where people would gather to tell jokes or just to gossip. Friends point out the empty buildings or lots where their favorite places are no longer standing-stores like the White Way Produce in Elkins (now McDonalds), Brill's Store in Marlinton (now an empty lot since the 1985 flood), stores at Mill Point, where now the grass and gravel is all you see.
But walk into the Pretty Penny, and you know that you're in a special kind of place. The old tin ceilings, original hardwood floors, the rolling wooden ladders - places like this evoke in us all the universal awareness that time doesn't truly disappear. In the best of places, the people who have passed before still impress us with what they created. Like the lively murmuring of all those children lining up for the candy jar or waiting for Mr. Moore to sell them a bag of peanuts.
For Opal, Moore's Store was really her husband William's store, and she always preferred working in the garden to working in the store. In fact, after talking about the store, the conversation soon turned to Opal's true passion-the natural beauty of West Virginia, and of the joy she takes in working in her garden. When Opal turned 80, her friend Betty Burke asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate, and Opal said she wanted to climb Seneca Rocks.
Today at 96 years old, Opal Moore still spends a lot of her time gardening. She took me outside to show me the garden plot her neighbor Daniel Hollandsworth built for her. It's waist high so she doesn't have to stoop.
It's still September, and she showed me the yellow tomatoes she picked that morning, grown from heirloom seeds that have passed through her family for generations. It's the kind of afternoon where the two of us just sit on her porch for awhile, saying nothing, and I realized that this woman has worked this earth with all her heart.
I asked Opal how much she had seen Hillsboro change, expecting her to say that it's changed drastically. Without a second of hesitation, she says, "Hillsboro hasn't changed very much. It's just about the same."
Traveling 219 is funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council. For more stories from the Traveling 219 project, please visit www.Traveling219.com.